June 27, 2009:
The Indian Air Force is buying fourteen Saras Light Transport Aircraft, for about $8 million each. The air force would like to eventually have 45 of them. The seven ton, twin engine turboprop aircraft carries a crew of two and up to 14 passengers (or about a ton of cargo.) Cruising speed is about 500 kilometers an hour, and endurance is six hours. The Saras was designed and built by a government agency, as part of India's effort to develop domestic military and high tech equipment industries. Development of Saras began in 1991, as a joint venture with Russia. But lack of cash soon forced Russia to drop out, and India carried on alone.
Three months ago, the second prototype crashed during a flight test, but the developers believe they can still get the aircraft into production by 2010. India has long had problems with its government owned defense manufacturers. Poor management and many missed deadlines, was compounded by too-often mediocre results. This sort of thing has become a national scandal, and the developers are under intense scrutiny, and pressure, to get it right more often.