Uncertainty Looms Over Whether the Indian Air Force Will Use It

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NEW DELHI — India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) plans to go ahead with development of the homegrown basic trainer HTT-40, but there is uncertainty if the Indian Air Force (IAF) would ever buy it because the timeline for development of the trainer is incomplete.

The IAF has already contracted the Swiss Pilatus basic trainer PC-Mark-II and conveyed to the Ministry of Defence in the past that it is not in favor of using the HTT-40 trainer, which was rolled out from the hangar on Feb. 2 to prepare for its flight.

In February 2015, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the highest body in the MoD responsible for clearing weapon purchases, approved a proposal of the IAF to buy 38 additional Pilatus trainers to top the existing 75, but the DAC also ordered that further IAF needs be met through procurement of HTT-40 basic trainers, which was not demanded by IAF.

IAF officials said in private that bureaucrats in the MoD, while deciding whether to order HTT-40 trainers, had overlooked Air Force recommendations, which in 2013 had strongly urged the homemade HTT-40 trainer project be put on hold and 106 additional Pilatus trainers be procured.

Even as HAL rolled out the HTT-40, uncertainty persisted on the fate of the homemade trainer.

A senior HAL official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said HAL's decision to go ahead with the HTT-40 program was based on DAC's decision to buy additional basic trainers from HAL.

"However, we have not been officially communicated yet. HAL is developing the basic trainer prototypes from its internal resources," the official said.

The IAF officials said in private that they are not sure about the delivery schedule of the HTT-40, which is already behind. The official added that the training of the pilots is already satisfactorily underway with the Swiss Pilatus trainers.

Retired IAF Air Marshal Subhash Bhojwani said: "The timeline for testing and manufacture of HTT-40, from published sources, is not optimistic. It seems to indicate that the full-scale production of the aircraft will start only in 2020, by which time the IAF and Indian Navy will be fully equipped with the requisite number of Pilatus PC7 Mk2s and will have little use for HTT-40. Perhaps HAL has hopes of exporting to other air forces, although I doubt anybody will procure an aircraft which the manufacturer has been unable to sell to the home Air Force."

While HTT-40 has been rolled out from the hangar, it is a long way before the first trials are held, the IAF officials said. US-based company Honeywell, which has supplied the engines for HAL's trainer, will certify their integration with the trainer so the earliest flight can take place in 2018.

The HAL official, however, said: "The aircraft is now ready for undertaking ground runs and taxi trials to be followed by its maiden flight." The official refused to provide a timeline for when the flight will take place.

When asked why HAL is going ahead with the HTT-40 despite opposition from IAF, Bhojwani said: "Maybe the MoD hope to coerce the IAF and [the Indian Navy] to procure this aircraft under the Make in India banner. To me it appears that HAL is permanently out of sync with the requirements of its major client, the IAF."

Email: vraghuvanshi@defensenews.com

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