November 29, 2011

India to order 20 more Hawk AJTs

(Times of India) : For a country that took two decades to ink the first contract for British Hawk advanced jet trainers (AJTs) after losing hundreds of fighters and pilots in crashes, India seems to be going the whole hog for the AJTs.

After first ordering 66 twin-seat Hawks in March, 2004, and then another 57 in July, 2010, at a combined overall project cost running almost into Rs 16,000 crore, India is going to order another 20 AJTs.

The defence acquisitions council, chaired by defence minister A K Antony, last Friday cleared the IAF proposal for the 20 new Hawks at a cost of around Rs 3,600 crore, say sources.

The overall Hawk project, with 24 supplied directly by BAE Systems and 122 to be licenced manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in India, is likely to cost well over Rs 20,000 crore by the time its completed by 2016-17, add sources.

While the first 123 Hawks will help train rookie fighter pilots the intricacies of advanced combat flying, the latest 20 are meant for IAF's famous Surya Kiran aerobatics team, which has been forced to stop its breathtaking manoevres due to a crippling shortage of training aircraft. The AJT saga has been marked by government apathy, poor long-term planning, flawed contracts and delayed delivery schedules. A majority of new fighter pilots still have to make do with old and unsuitable MiG-21 trainers, three decades after IAF first projected the requirement for AJTs for ``transitional training'' between sub-sonic aircraft and the `highly-unforgiving' MiG-21s.

If all the 146 Hawks had been ordered at one go, they would have proved much cheaper. Moreover, they would have saved many young lives if they were inducted much earlier. As much as 39% of the 1,010 crashes recorded by IAF since 1970 have been attributed to ``human error (aircrew), often a result of inadequate training. ``Technical defects'', caused by ageing machines and shoddy maintenance, is the other equally big killer.

About 55 Hawks have been inducted so far, much behind schedule. These include the first 24 directly delivered by BAE Systems to the Bidar airbase in Karnataka, and 31 subsequently assembled by HAL. The delay is ``due to receipt of defective components, jigs and fixtures from the foreign manufacturer (BAE Systems), on which liquidated damages were levied'', Antony himself had told Parliament earlier.

But with HAL promising to step up production to 13-14 Hawks a year, it's being hoped the first 123 AJTs - 17 of them are earmarked for Navy - are inducted by 2015-2016. ``The new 20 AJTs can follow thereafter,'' said an official.

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