India wants additional PC-7 trainer aircraft, but state-owned HAL is pushing its own under-development basic trainer. (Aldo Wicki / Pilatus)
NEW DELHI — After contracting 75 basic trainer aircraft from Pilatus in 2012, the Indian Ministry of Defence wants to buy an additional 106 that would be license-built by a domestic company.
But domestic defense firms find the proposal uneconomical, and state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) is pushing its own homegrown basic trainer, though the Indian Air Force has already rejected it.
The request for information, described by the defense industry as the first of its kind, asks selected domestic companies if they would participate in the proposed $1.2 billion program to build 106 Pilatus PC-7 Mark-II trainers under license from the Swiss company in the “Buy and Make (Indian)” category, which restricts contracts to domestic defense companies and requires that at least half of the components and subsystems come from domestic sources.
Domestic companies, in turn, find the “Buy and Make (Indian )” program for Pilatus uneconomical because of the limited order. A chosen domestic company and the Swiss original equipment manufacturer would produce the trainer. However, no domestic partner has so far confirmed talking to Pilatus on the program.
An executive of Tata Group, which received the request for information, said that under the tender’s terms all interested Indian companies will have to first talk to Pilatus and then calculate their cost. Pilatus would be the main beneficiary under the Indian program, leaving little profit for the domestic firms, the official said.
HAL is also developing a homegrown trainer and is trying to block the proposed Pilatus program, a Defence Ministry source said.
A HAL official said the basic trainer it is developing, the HTT-40, would be more advanced than the PC-7 as it will have weapon-firing capabilities and other advancements. The HTT-40 is expected to fly by 2015, he added.
The Pilatus Buy and Make proposal may never take off because of domestic companies’ lack of interest and HAL’s push for its own program, the MoD source said.
Last year, the Air Force proposed that HAL license-produce the Pilatus aircraft but HAL rejected the proposal, saying it was working on its own project, a senior Air Force official said.
The Air Force informed the MoD last year that it did not favor HAL’s homegrown trainer and asked MoD to buy additional trainers quickly.
HAL and the Air Force came to a dispute when the former Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, asked Defence Minister A.K. Antony to drop HAL’s plans to produce its own basic trainer and instead purchase additional Pilatus trainers.
Browne wrote to Antony, saying HAL should focus on its delayed aircraft projects, especially the Intermediate Jet Trainer, and forget about building a basic trainer.
The Swiss-made trainer would be cheaper than the HTT-40, and HAL has poor reliability in terms of delivery shedules, Browne said.
The Air Force has a requirement for 181 basic trainer aircraft. The request for information says the trainers must include requisite tools, testers, ground-based training systems, full-motion simulators, and avionics and spare parts. ■