Procurement: More, Please, Sir


October 11, 2009: The Indian Air Force has shut down its acrobatics team, so that the aircraft they use (which are basically trainers) can be transferred to pilot flight training units, which are desperately short of flyable trainer aircraft. India's fleet of training aircraft is quite old, and increasingly prone to breakdowns and crashes.

India has long put off buying new trainers. There are actually three different trainer aircraft types pilots during their training. The HPT-32 is used for primary flight training. Intermediate training uses the Kiran Mark II, then the Hawk Jet Trainer is used for advanced training. After that, the pilots are sent to combat units where they learn how to operate a specific type of combat aircraft.

For a long time, new pilots went straight from propeller driven trainer aircraft, to high performance jets like the MiG-21. This was made worse by the fact that the MiG-21 has always been a tricky aircraft to fly. This resulted in a high loss rate from peacetime accidents. The solution to this was a new jet trainer. But it took decades for this proposal to make its way through the defense procurement bureaucracy.

Last year, India decided to buy another 40 British Hawk jet trainers. Five years ago, after two decades of effort, BAE Systems finally sold 66 Hawk jet trainers to India, at a cost of some $25 million each. The delays were caused by the Indian unwillingness to spend the money, plus the efforts of French, Russian, Czech and American aircraft manufacturers to put forward their own candidates. Finally, the growing number of Indian MiG-21 aircraft lost, partly due to inadequately trained pilots, forced the government to close the deal. The Hawk advanced jet trainers are the most successful Western aircraft of this type, at least in terms of sales (over 800 have been sold). The US Navy uses the Hawk, and India felt the Hawk was the most suitable for training MiG-21 pilots. The nine ton aircraft are used to train pilots who will eventually fly jet fighters. The Hawk can also be armed and used for ground attack.

India has similar problems with the primary and intermediate trainers. The HPT-32s were recently grounded because of suspected fleet wide problems. Using the elderly Kiran Mark IIs to help keep primary training going, only put more wear and tear on that aircraft.




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