IAF shoots down indigenous trainer project

Air Chief wants to buy more Swiss aircraft to train pilots

Written by Manu Pubby | New Delhi | Published:July 30, 2013 12:17 am

Throwing a spanner in the programme to develop an indigenous basic trainer,the Air Force has asked for more Swiss aircraft to train its pilots.

Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne has recommended,in a note to the defence ministry,to cancel the Make Project,the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited programme to develop 106 trainer aircraft. The project,which was aimed to boost the domestic defence industry,began in 2010 as HTT 40 and the first of the new aircraft was scheduled to fly in 2015.

Browne instead wants the ministry to buy 106 more PC 7 MK II aircraft from Pilatus,the Swiss company which was awarded the contract,under the fast track procurement process,for 75 of these aircraft in May 2012.

This has landed the ministry in a quandary as its guidelines specify that military equipment must be imported only if it is not available at home or if the high-end technology can’t be developed in India.

The ministry had once earlier turned down its request to immediately order more of the Swiss trainers,arguing that an additional order can be placed by 2015 if required,but that doesn’t seem to have deterred the Air Force: it has again asked for 38 aircraft for “immediate flying training requirements”.

Browne,who retires in December,has claimed in his note that his force is against wants to roll up the indigenous trainers because they would end up costing more than the imported ones.

He claimed that while Pilatus has committed to keep cost per aircraft at Rs 30 crore a piece for the mean delivery year of 2014,the HTT 40 is expected to cost an estimated Rs 32.7 crore or Rs 43.5 crore if real cost estimation is added. However,what Browne has not mentioned,sources said,is that the Rs 30 crore price tag is based on exchange rates of last year; at current rates,each of the Swiss aircraft would cost close to Rs 40 crore.

The Air Force also wants to roll up the project because it believes HAL would not deliver on deadline — first flight by 2015 and serial production the following year. HAL,the force has suggested,should stick to other programs such as the intermediate jet trainer.

That is not all. The Air Force has also questioned the “indigenous” character of the HTT 40. Several of its large components such as engine,ejection seat and display systems would be imported,it pointed out,though the HAL has said that,on cost factor,only 30 per cent of plane would be imported and,therefore,would be less susceptible to currency exchange rate fluctuations.

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