Indian Air Force finally buys Indian-made HTT-40 trainer it refused to buy for years

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Indian Air Force (IAF) purchases 70 Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 (HTT-40) Basic Trainer Aircraft (BTA), which Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled during DefExpo-2022 in Gandhinagar more early this week.

The trainer, designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), will be built at the Bangalore and Nashik facilities from early 2023.

The IAF will receive the first batch of two HTT-40 trainers within 20 months, followed by eight and then 20 aircraft per year.

Beginning IAF and Navy pilots will learn to fly these aircraft during the first stage of their training. In the second and third stages, pilots are trained on the Kiran Mark II jet and the advanced Hawk jet respectively.

The HTT-40 deal is of great significance as development of the aircraft, which began in 2013, progressed amid an up and down battle between HAL and IAF over the future of the program.

The history of the HTT-40

The HAL had offered the HTT-40 to replace the HPT-32 “Deepak” trainer, which the IAF grounded in 2009 after a horrific crash that killed two experienced pilots.

Inducted in 1984, the HAL-designed aircraft encountered persistent problems due to major flaws in its design. In 2010, at least 17 Deepak accidents claimed the lives of 19 pilots.

However, in 2012 the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the IAF rejected HAL’s bid to develop the trainer aircraft, concluding that the HTT-40 would prove more expensive than 75 Swiss Pilatus PC trainers -7 Mk II for which a $1 billion contract was in progress. view from here.

In August of the same year, Defense Minister AK Antony announced that the Ministry of Defense had signed a Rs 2,900 crore deal for the Swiss aircraft, despite serious allegations of discrepancies.

But with 75 Swiss PC-7s forming only part of the IAF’s total requirement of 183 basic trainer aircraft, the HAL proposed that the IAF purchase 108 HTT-40 trainers to complete the fleet.

The IAF, however, was in favor of purchasing additional PC-7s from Switzerland by exercising the option clause to purchase 37 additional aircraft in the contract. The first Swiss trainers from the initial order had already been delivered in April 2013.

A strident campaign against HAL’s HTT-40 followed as the IAF consistently resisted the native coach over the next few years.

In July 2013, the head of the IAF, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, wrote to Defense Minister Antony insisting that 106 PC-7 trainers be imported from Switzerland. He argued that the HAL-built HTT-40 would be more expensive “by more than 89% as of 2018” compared to the Swiss PC-7.

If the Ministry of Defense had approved the proposal for additional PC-7s at this stage, the potential order for HTT-40s would have shrunk to 71 aircraft.

Around the same time, news reports indicated that the IAF had diluted at least 12 performance criteria, including some relating to pilot safety, to allow Swiss Pilatus PC-7 Mk IIs to qualify for supply. .

In 2014, the IAF issued a new RFI inviting Indian companies to submit bids to supply 106 PC-7 Mk II trainers in partnership with Pilatus. This was considered an attempt to kill HAL’s HTT-40 program.

Earlier, in 2013, it approached HAL to build 106 of these Swiss trainer aircraft in the country under license from Pilatus. The proposal had been rejected by HAL, which continued to develop HTT-40.

HAL had argued that its trainer was not only cheaper, but also easy to maintain and upgrade over its 30-year lifespan. However, after unsubstantiated allegations of corruption in the project mysteriously surfaced in 2015, it agreed to build 106 PC-7 Mk II trainers in India.

But with emphasis on ‘Make in India’ under a new BJP-led government, the IAF was told in March 2015 that it would have to purchase HTT-40 trainers developed by HAL. The decision follows reports that the Swiss PC-7s would be more expensive than expected when the contract was awarded to Pilatus.

A little over two years later, in June 2017, the plane made its maiden flight in the presence of the then Minister of Defense, Manohar Parrikar.

“The young team [at HAL] took a calculated risk and that he flew the plane within the year and retained his insurance. Native content on HTT-40 is close to 80%. Nearly 50% of HTT-40 components are manufactured by private players in the Indian aerospace ecosystem,” Parrikar said at the time.

The HTT-40 not only outperformed the Pilatus, but also exceeded the IAF performance criteria. While the IAF required a top speed of 400 km/h, the HTT-40 was tested at 420 km/h.

Additionally, he exceeded the IAF ceiling requirement of 20,000 feet while flying at 20,200 feet. It can take off and land on just 800 meters of runway, less than the 1,000 meter limit set by the IAF in the Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirement.

But in 2019, when the HAL asked the IAF to issue a request for proposals for the HTT-40, essential for unlocking the money needed to pay American Honeywell Garret for the engine that will power the trainer , the IAF refused. He would only issue a DP after the aircraft had completed spin tests.

Training aircraft must be able to enter and recover from a spin as it is necessary to familiarize trainee pilots to identify the start of controlled flight and the actions required to exit such situations.

Given the high risk associated with performing this complex maneuver, the test progresses incrementally, in turn, and requires several flights.

The HTT-40 passed the “six-turn spin test” later that year.

“For HAL, erasing the HTT-40’s six-turn spin tests takes a monkey off our backs,” HAL’s design chief Arup Chatterjee said at the time.

Over the years, HAL has resisted the IAF’s attempt to abandon the HTT-40 program in favor of Swiss PC-7 coaches. He invested Rs 350 crore of his own money in the project.

The program progressed without much support from the IAF and was eventually saved thanks to Narendra Modi government’s ‘Make in India’ push in the defense sector.

In August 2020, the government authorized the purchase of the plane and the IAF finally published a tender for 75 HTT-40s in early 2021, along with a clause providing for the option to acquire some. 38 others.

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