A Foreign-Market Win: India's Air Force chief has asked the Defence Ministry to purchase more Swiss-built Pilatus PC-7 Mark 2 aircraft, rather than buy trainers made in India. (Aldo Wicki)
NEW DELHI — In a scathing attack on India’s monopoly military aircraft manufacturer, the head of the Air Force has asked the Defence Ministry to drop plans to produce a homemade basic trainer and instead continue purchasing Swiss-made trainers.
In a detailed letter written to Defence Minister A.K. Antony last month, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne wrote that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) should instead focus on its delayed aircraft projects, especially intermediate jet trainers (IJTs), and not build the HTT-40 homemade basic trainer.
In making the case for further purchases of the Pilatus PC-7 Mark 2 trainers, Browne wrote that not only are the PC-7s cheaper than the HTT-40s, there is also no guarantee that HAL would adhere to the delivery schedule, given its poor track record.
“It is pertinent to mention that HAL routinely seeks approval for a small project completion period (Typically T0+60 months) without achieving it,” Browne wrote. T0+60 means the product will be delivered 60 months after signing the contract, which HAL fails to do.
In the case of the IJT, HAL claimed it would achieve the initial operational clearance (IOC) within 60 months of signing the contract. But even after 14 years, the probable date of completion for IOC is still unknown, Browne wrote.
Browne went on to write that the HAL promised IOC of the light combat helicopter by December 2010, yet now says it won’t happen until September 2014 and is expected to cost more. As for the light utility helicopter, IOC was to be February 2014, but the project is behind schedule and the engine contract has yet to be signed.
Browne contends that the Swiss trainer is not only cheaper but its delivery is guaranteed. Plus, he wrote that he prefers to use only one model of basic trainer, and building two would complicate issues relating to spares. India has already ordered 75 PC-7 trainers.
The HTT-40, meanwhile would cost nearly 62 percent more than the Swiss trainer after 2017 due to slippages in delivery of the homemade trainer.
The contract for 75 Swiss trainers contained an option for 37 more. Browns said he wants to exercise that option and then buy another 68 for a total of 180.
The Air Force set a requirement for that number of trainers in 2009 after a series of accidents forced the MoD to ground the HPT-32 basic trainer. A global tender was issued, which Pilatus won for the 75 trainers, with the balance to be built by HAL.
No official from HAL would give the exact delivery date of the HTT-40, but said the prototype would fly in three years. A senior HAL official said Browne’s cost estimates for the HTT-40 were too high.
Browne alleged that the basic trainer proposed by HAL has several imported components. “Instead of assembling together and integrating the BTA from foreign procured items, HAL needs to concentrate all its design & development efforts, energy and capabilities on expediting IOC for the IJT, urgently required to replace the Kiran trainer aircraft which is starting to retire this year.”
“The severe criticism of the Indian Air Force on HAL reflects the underlying dissatisfaction with the users on delay in homemade projects and inferior quality of work done by the state-owned aerospace monopoly company,” said Bhim Singh, retired Air Force wing commander, adding that the government must establish an aircraft manufacturer in the private sector. ■