Grounding of the HPT-32 fleet comes at a time when the IAF is already faced with acute shortage of pilots. Continued neglect of the trainer fleets would seriously undermine the IAF’s grandiose plans for modernisation and growth.
Come Air Force Day and it is time for the top brass of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to catalogue achievements and reiterate resolve to scale greater heights. The 77th anniversary this year was no different as the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, unraveled plans before an awed media for an ambitious modernisation drive with staggering levels of investment directed at total metamorphosis of the force. The media was briefed on the visions of capability for the IAF to project power from the Central Asian region to the Straits of Malacca and to emerge as one of the leading air forces in the world. The session was laced with an array of sophisticated terminology comprehensible perhaps to only a limited section of the audience.
While the IAF appears mesmerised with visions of greatness, its foundations appear substantially weakened on account of inadequate attention, lack of forward planning and absence of proper synergy with the indigenous aerospace industry in respect of its basic piston and jet trainer fleets. The Hindustan Piston Trainer (HPT)-32 has been afflicted with serious problems since inception and there have been no lasting solutions from the OEM. The IAF had no option but to endure; losing aircraft and pilots with disconcerting regularity.
As the life of a fleet can be predicted with a reasonable degree of accuracy, there should already have been a clear plan in place for an indigenous aircraft to replace the HPT-32 in about three decades of induction. Despite dialogue that began over five years ago between the IAF and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) on the replacement for the HPT-32, today there is no design for a basic trainer even on the drawing board. In response to the urgent requirement projected by the IAF, HAL has now floated a request for information soliciting collaboration from foreign aerospace companies to produce a basic turboprop trainer. Under the circumstances, obtaining this perhaps is a prudent course of action as in-house design and development of a basic trainer by the HAL is unlikely in the time frame envisaged by the IAF. Tragically, the HAL has squandered the opportunity to develop a new aircraft on its own.
The Kiran jet trainer fleet has been in service since the early 1970s and its replacement should have been streaming in by now. Unfortunately, the Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) programme, a replacement for the Kiran, which began on a promising note, has for one reason or another, not been making satisfactory progress. A basic aircraft with conventional technology, the inordinate delay in its development, which can prove detrimental for the training of the fighter stream, is neither understandable nor acceptable.