The Trainer is Here

HAL has high hopes from its indigenously designed and built HTT-40

Atul Kumar

The Indian Air Force (IAF), fourth-largest in the world with nearly 1,800 aircraft, has been facing an acute depletion in its entire aircraft fleet including the fighter jets, attack helicopters, combat drones as well as trainers. Along with the falling numbers in the fighter squadrons, the shortfall in trainers is directly affecting the training course of the IAF rookie pilots. The current trainer aircraft fleet of the Indian Army (IA) has dropped to nearly 300 from a sanctioned strength of 430 aircraft.

HAL’s HTT 40 basic trainer aircraft

The IAF follows a three-stage training course to train its young pilots — Stage I, II and III, which are executed on three different aircraft, such as Basic, Intermediate and Advanced trainers. The IAF has been facing distress in its training operations and started shifting its training course from three-aircraft to two-aircraft training spells due to lack of skilled trainers. As of now, pilots are being trained on Pilatus PC7 MkII BTA for stage I and II; and on Hawk 132 Advanced Jet Trainer for stage III.

The IAF currently operates a joint fleet of 75 PC7 MkII BTA and 121 Hawk Mk-132 AJTs, of which the Indian Navy employs 17 to train. The IAF is also utilising obsolete HJT 16 Kiran intermediate trainer jet. HJT 16 Kiran is a jet-powered IJT developed indigenously. After completing 50 years in service, it is scheduled to retire shortly. Given this, the IAF is now actively looking for quick solutions to meet its immediate and future ab initio training requirements.


Existing Fleet

In 2012, the IAF bought 75 PC7 MkII turboprop BTA off-the-shelf with integrated training package worth USD523 million from Swiss Pilatus with the option of additional 36 aircraft. Weighing 1,700kg, PC-7 MkII, a hybrid of Pilatus PC-7 and PC-9 trainers, is a worldwide proven trainer aircraft powered by a 700 shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-25C turboprop engine with a Hartzell four-blade aluminium propeller. It is currently in service of half a dozen air forces around the world.

P&W derate engine guarantees low operating cost and long engine life. The aircraft features an avionic suite with main flight display, MFD, electronic flight instrumentation system (EFIS), automatic direction finder (ADF), flight distance and duration calculator. It is also equipped with a communication package, anti-g tool and an on-board oxygen generating system (OBOGS). The entire spectrum of tools, displays and controls in the aircraft are ergonomically placed to allow effortless and safe operations in all flight regimes and aircraft integrated training package, a suite of ground-based equipment and programmes, supports latest generation pilots brain training and needs.

Meanwhile, the IAF has decided to acquire 38 more off-the-shelf trainers from Switzerland, but the agreement has not been sealed yet due to the one-year embargo on Swiss firm by the defence ministry following corruption charges. However, even with these numbers, the IAF would still need 106 basic trainer aircraft.

On the other side of the spectrum is Hawk, a 4th generation transonic jet training solution. It is powered by a single Rolls Royce Adour Mk871 turbofan engine. The mission system architecture of Hawk integrates a digital fly-by-wire flight control system, full-colour MFD, synthetic radar, EW and countermeasures, an advanced navigation system (digital moving map) and new-generation mission computers. The Hawk training package also comes with Virtual Training System developed by BAE Systems in collaboration with Elbit for revolutionising IAF pilots training system.

In the initial stages, the IAF had projected a need for over 155-160 advanced trainers. Following this, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) announced an advanced trainer programme called HJT-39 or CAT (Combat Air Trainer). However, the IAF chose Hawk. The delivery was executed under two different contracts -- first for 66 Hawks in 2004 and the second for 57 in 2008. Thereafter, the IAF expressed the need for 20 additional Hawks for its Surya Kiran aerobatic squadron, while the Navy also expressed the requirement for eight more Hawks.

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