Currently flying aircraft borrowed from fighter pilot training, the Indian Air Force’s aerobatics team — Surya Kiran — is likely to get its own aircraft soon. With conclusion of negotiations between the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and BAE Systems, the defence ministry is expected to place an order of 20 Hawk Mk132 aircraft with HAL next month.
BAE Systems is the main supplier for Hawk advanced jet trainers (AJT) to HAL. The Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy have so far received over 100 Hawk AJTs. These were part of the earlier two orders of 66 and 57 aircraft placed by the defence ministry with BAE Systems in 2004 and 2010, respectively. Out of 123 Hawks, 24 were supplied in flyaway condition, while the rest were assembled at HAL’s Bengaluru facility.
Unlike the earlier Hawks, the current order will have Hawk AJTs with smoke pots and liveried in the colours of the Surya Kiran team. The order is estimated to be worth more than $500 million.
“BAE had to justify its prices against the previous order. This is a smaller order, and besides new prices being consistent with inflation, BAE has also explained the reasons for the increase in prices beyond inflation,” a senior HAL official involved with price negotiations said.
Once 20 Hawk AJTs are supplied, Surya Kiran will have the capacity to put out the full complement of nine aircraft on display. Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha has promised a display of nine aircraft by the next Aero-India, which is scheduled for early 2017.
In the interim, the Surya Kiran team plans to increase its capacity to have six aircraft on display by the next Air Force Day in October 2016. Surya Kiran will then be able to move beyond a composite formation and put two aircraft on synchronised display for low-level acrobatics.
“The number of aircraft which can be put on display is dependent not only on the availability of aircraft but also on the qualified aircrew available. The two have to be done together to get the nine aircraft on display,” an IAF official associated with the Surya Kiran team explained.
BAE Systems, on its part, has been trying to work closely with HAL to find a future path of development by either weaponsing or exporting the Hawk AJT. In the long term, BAE is eyeing plans to create its own supply chain in India and start export of Hawks from HAL.
The Surya Kiran team of 52 Squadron, which was on display on the Air Force Day earlier this month, is an important component of IAF’s public outreach programme. Based out of Bidar in Karnatka, it currently has six regular Hawk AJTs, which have been pulled out of training activities.
The team is manned by seven pilots, four of whom were with the old Surya Kiran team while three have been newly inducted for Hawk AJTs. The old Surya Kiran team was disbanded in February 2011 after its HAL-built Surya Kiran HJT-16 Mk I and Mk II aircraft were diverted to train fighter pilots.
The British Royal Air Force aerobatics team ‘Red Arrows’ has been using the BAE Systems’ Hawk AJT since 1979.