IAF’s trainer medley

Defmin Parrikar’s decisive push for the indigenous HTT-40 as basic trainer — MOD ordering over 70 of this aircraft before a prototype is up and flying, is a good thing alright, but also demolishes IAF’s plan for a two (foreign) aircraft training regime — the norm of most modern air forces the world over. This plan involved the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 as basic trainer-cum-its upgraded variants Mk-II/PC-21 for the intermediate stage (where pilots are trained to pull out of a spin, etc) and the ex-British, HAL assembled, Hawk as the jet trainer before transitioning the entrant-level pilots to advance training in specific aircraft (MiG-21 bis, MiG-29, Jaguar, Su-30, Mirage 2000) at the squadron level. This would have made sense if IAF, at the time of securing Pilatus, had chosen the more sophisticated Mk-II/PC-21 version that’d have done duty in both the basic and intermediate trainer flying stages. Instead IAF, as is its wont, thinking short-term (to get MOD’s approval for the Pilatus buy) plonked (in “Charlie” Browne’s time as CAS) for some 70-odd of the cheaper PC-7 turboprops, in the expectation that MOD would be stampeded in time into OKing the purchase of an additional 100, higher priced, Mk-IIs/PC-21s. The Parrikar decision apparently nixes this latter option. The question then is can IAF do with just HTT-40 and Hawk as the two trainer aircraft — one turbo-prop, the other jet?

HAL/ADA should have long ago gotten into the business of designing, developing, and producing a successor to the HPT-32 Deepak and HJT-16 Kiran 1, 1A, and Mk-II jet trainers, with over 118, 72, and 61 respectively in service. The question is why did this NOT happen? Well, we know the answer, because IAF preferred Western aircraft for all stages of pilot training. Hence, the Deepak HPT-32 and Kiran Mk-II with a Bristol-Siddely Orpheus jet engine that originally powered the license-produced Gnat never had follow-on Indian aircraft, with IAF actively discouraging the development of indigenous turboprop and jet successors, leaving GOI with no alternative other than to import first the Hawk and later the Pilatus.

This is an old, tested, and proven IAF tactic of preempting development and production of indigenously designed aircraft, shouting and screaming publicly about “voids” and otherwise scaring the govt of the day into permitting buys from abroad. Politicians have been complicit in this game to make the IAF and the military generally dependent on external suppliers. Parrikar has sought change. He is trying to temper IAF’s antipathy by insisting that IAF make-do with HTT-40/Pilatus PC-7 and the Hawk, and that there aren’t enough resources for Mk-II/PC-21 in this scheme of things. And to make HTT-40 financially viable, is driving a weaponised version of it for use in COIN ops and for export.

A whole generation of IAF pilots, in the Russian mode, trained in HPT-32s and Kirans before joining squadron service and becoming familiar with combat aircraft.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Russia, russian military, society, South Asia, Weapons, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to IAF’s trainer medley

  1. quickboy says:

    IAF preferred Western aircraft for all stages of pilot training.
    Well that may also explain why IAF finds it difficult to live with Russian fighters. Is there a problem that the pilots trained on these western aircrafts may find it difficult to fly the huge and powerful Russian beasts, Which have Thrust vestoring and things like that and looks like real “BOY’S TOYS”?. Food for thought anyway

    Any news of the recovery of HAL 25KN jet engine?. or is it just becomeing another showpiece for exhibitions?.

    Can two of those engines power a small say 10 seater business jet?. From the news every business jet manufacturer is now targeting Indian market, Especially it looks like there is a market for private jet charter?.

  2. Soorya says:

    Sir , PC-11 is a glider while Pilatus PC-21 is the advanced trainer aircraft which was intended to replace PC-7s.

  3. Sriram Datla says:

    Sir are Fakhnor/ AYNI airbases in Tajikistan under IAF or Tajik control. Have the Tajiks and the russians allowed us to put fighter aircraft there?

  4. Tajik, but India has use of it.

  5. Raahul says:

    Tejas Trainer, Sitara and HTT-40 preclude the need to import any kind of training aircraft. I agree with BK, why delay any longer?The DRDO also has advanced simulators. Precious foreign exchange and jobs to be gained from making the right decision, and stopping
    Pilatus/Hawk imports.


  6. Tapas Ghose says:

    IAF often complains about the 17 HPT-32 trainers
    that have crashed out of the roughly 150 trainers it had inducted over the years.
    That is an attrition rate of 17/150, which is about 12%.
    We dont know how many of these are pilot error in training.
    A damning statistic is about the Mirage 2000,
    which is one of their favorite “safe” aircrafts. A lot
    of people are not aware of the fact that the IAF has inducted only
    about 60 mirage aircrafts of which 11 have crashed
    ( mostly for airplane faults rather than pilot error). This is
    an attrition rate of nearly 20%. The greek airforce also has had
    terrible mirage 2000 crashes. You should make people aware
    of these facts.

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