The delay in development of India’s intermediate jet trainer (IJT) by government-owned defense manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) has the Indian Air Force (IAF) worried, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne told AIN in an exclusive interview. The HAL HJT-36 is intended to replace the aging fleet of Kiran Mk II jet trainers in the IAF by 2015.
Since the start of design work in 1997, the IJT program has suffered three accidents, delaying its initial operational capability (IOC). When HAL displayed the first two IJT prototypes at the Paris Air Show in June 2005, it said that certification would follow in 2007. “We are concerned as we are not seeing significant progress on the IJT. HAL put in a dedicated design team, yet there are no results. This is a training aircraft and we cannot compromise on safety,” said Browne.
Issues remain on controls, engines and the aircraft’s weight, stall and spin characteristics, Browne said. This was confirmed to AIN by HAL design director T. Suvaranaraju, who said, “We have had a setback…four aircraft are in flight mode. We will recover the lost time.”
The IJT is supposed to be a stage-II trainer to be used before pilots graduate to the BAE Hawk Mk 132 advanced jet trainer. The IAF ordered 123 of these under two contracts, and another 20 are likely to be acquired to replace the Kirans that are flown by the IAF’s aerobatic team.
The IAF recently ordered 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mk II basic trainers and took options on another 106 to be license-built by HAL, after its obsolescent, HAL-built piston-engine HPT-32 basic trainers were grounded. “The loss of 17 aircraft and 19 pilots had resulted in pilots losing confidence in the safety and performance of the aircraft,” a defense official said on condition of anonymity.
The IAF has stationed its own personnel at HAL to monitor the development of the IJT. A consultancy with BAE Systems is also in the process of being signed, says Browne.
The IAF has a requirement for 181 basic trainers, along with 85 IJTs and 106 AJTs.