May 5, 2012

Korean Protest Dismissed, Indian Trainer Deal With Pilatus On Track

A deal with Pilatus for 75 PC-7 Mk.2 basic trainer aircraft is expected to be approved shortly, with India's apex Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) scrutinizing the final contract. A formal protest by Korea Aerospace, whose KT-1 trainer was runner-up in the final toss-up, was dismissed by the MoD. In Parliament yesterday, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said, "The proposal for procurement of Basic Trainer Aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) is awaiting consideration of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The proposal regarding the selection procedure of the Pilatus Trainer Aircraft has been progressed in accordance with the Defence Procurement Procedure. A representation submitted by M/s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), one of the bidders, has been found to be devoid of merit."

The IAF currently has 114 HAL HPT-32 Deepak basic trainers, all grounded since July 2009 owing to critical technical problems and flight safety issues. In a Parliamentary Standing Committee report released this week, the MoD gave testimony saying, "The Air Force is procuring 75 Basic Trainer Aircraft (BTA) for its Stage-I (ab-initio) flying training requirement. PC-7 Mk-II Turbo Prop aircraft of M/s Pilatus, Switzerland has been short-listed and contract negotiations have been completed. The case is being processed for CCS approval.  The delivery of the aircraft is  scheduled to commence 15 months after signing of the contract. 24 aircraft are expected to be delivered within 25 months, which will enable basic training to commence on these new aircraft.  Two simulators for BTA are planned to be procured. 106 BTA are planned to be designed and developed by HAL along with 3 simulators. Induction is planned to commence from 2016."

Speaking of the HPT-32 grounding and the genesis of the basic trainer procurement programme, the IAF told the Committee. "In July, 2009, we had a very unfortunate accident on the HPT-32, which was our basic trainer. This involved two very senior qualified Flying Instructors.About the HPT-32, because of no satisfactory response from the original equipment manufacturer of the engines, we found that we had no option but to ground those aircraft till such time we did get a very satisfactory answer. This aircraft has got a very adverse gliding characteristic. In case, the aircraft is not able to restart the engine in the air, then it is very dangerous for pilot. Here, we had two senior qualified Flying Instructors not able to pull off a safe landing. So, the Air Force had no option but to ground these aircraft. The process of getting this basic trainer aircraft started immediately thereafter."

Speaking of the Korean protest and certain "anonymous" complaints, the IAF's testimony continues: "Finally, there were only three aircrafts, which were short-listed. This entire process finished in January 2011 on approval of the Staff Evaluation Report by the Ministry. What happened after that was this. There were a couple of letters. There were some anonymous letters, some actual representations from one of the losing vendors. Therefore, it was felt appropriate in this case to have it thoroughly examined and the Ministry did that. It took some time. So, if you look at it, the time lost was, actually after submission of the report in 2011. If this had not interfered with the procurement process, I believe by end of 2011, by the last quarter, we would have certainly signed the contract. The intervening delay was only because of this reason."

The Standing Committee, in its comments, has noted: "[The Air Force] has reached to a critical stage with regard to trainer aircraft and simulators. The grounding of HPT-32 and the ageing of Kiran aircraft has further worsened the situation thereby compromising the training requirement of our pilots. The Committee are of the firm view that there is an urgent need to address the aforesaid issue immediately. The option of having aircraft on lease from the countries where we have signed the contract as well as sending our pilots to the manufacturer country from which we are buying trainer aircraft emerged as option during the course of deliberations by the Committee. The Committee emphasize that all these options need to be explored by the Air Force as well as the Ministry of Defence. Moreover, all the support by way of outlay should be provided by the Government. Not only that it should be ensured that the procurement procedures are put on fast track by addressing the various hurdles encountered at various stages so as to ensure that the Air Force at any cost get the Pilatus PC-7 Mark-II aircraft by the December next year as stated by the representative of Air Force during the course of deliberations so as to address the urgent and immediate need of Basic Trainer Aircraft for Air Force."

- Livefist

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