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Indian AF, Tired of Delays, Looks Overseas for Trainer

The Indian Air Force, losing patience awaiting an indigenous intermediate jet trainer (IJT) that is seven years overdue, wants to purchase a trainer aircraft overseas, an Air Force source said.

In development since 1999, the IJT is unlikely to meet a reworked deadline of achieving initial operational clearance by the end of 2014, leading the service to press the panic button, the source added.

The Air Force uses aging Kiran basic trainers inducted in 1970-71, while the IJT, being developed by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), was scheduled to have been introduced nearly seven years ago.

The Kiran has already exceeded its life expectancy and is scheduled to be retired in 2015, leaving a vacuum in pilot training, the source added. The Air Force now wants the Defence Ministry to procure trainers from overseas.

No official from HAL was available for comment on the status of the IJT and the reason for delays, and no Defence Ministry spokesman would say whether a trainer would be bought from overseas if HAL experiences more delays. However, an MoD source said the repeated delays of the IJT are raising concerns.

An Air Force official said there are problems with the Russian-built AL-551 engine that will power the IJT. Contracted in 2002 from NPO Saturn of Russia, the engine has still not received certification, the official said.

The Russian engine needs to be overhauled more frequently than suits the Air Force, the official said. Without giving exact figures, the official said the Russian engine would need to be overhauled about every 150 hours of flying, while the Air Force wants the engine to operate at least 900 hours before an overhaul is needed.

A Russian diplomat here, however, said the engine meets the basic requirements of the IJT, adding that the service life of the engine is being increased to 500 hours.

Last year, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, the service’s chief of staff, asked the Indian defense minister to buy 68 additional Pilatus PC-6 Mark-II basic trainers from Swiss company Pilatus Aircraft, topping the earlier order of 75 trainers.

In his letter to the defense minister, Browne wrote that given HAL’s poor track record, the proposed IJT should be put on hold and 68 additional Pilatus trainers be ordered instead.

In August, India’s autonomous auditing agency, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), criticized HAL for delaying the IJT project.

“The project suffered at every stage of its execution,” the CAG report noted. “While the planning went awry with indecisiveness about the weight, thrust and life of the engine at the design stage itself, taking up production without initial operational clearance did not serve the purpose of the [Air Force], which had projected requirement for the aircraft way back in 1999.” 

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