Acquiring the Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) has definitely become a top priority item for the Indian Air Force. It been projecting the vital need to induct the AJT in its flying training establishments to the Ministry of Defence since the 1980s when the La Fontaine Committee report noted that the IAF had no suitable transitional trainer aircraft to fill the gap before pilots, fresh from the basic flying training are taken onto operational fighter planes. The Committee, after a lot of deliberation and going through the flying instructional syllabi of other air forces, had recommended training on the AJT as an important measures to bring down the accident rate.
That it has taken almost two decades and hundreds of air crashes costing the exchequer more than Rs 800 crores in the last five years alone, to provide the operational flying training aircraft considered inescapably essential by the IAFs, places the government’s top level decision making apparatus in a bad light. This deficiency has been commented upon by the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Defence and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in their reports. In the meantime, another high level committee on preventing air accidents headed by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, now the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, in its report submitted in September 1997, again recommended immediate induction of an AJT along with flight simulators to upgrade pilot training.
The BAe Hawk-100 and the French Alphajet have since long been short-listed for procurement. Later the Russian MiG-AT, which is still under development, also came up for consideration. Finally, it is the Hawk, which has been preferred over the others in the reckoning though some cost conscious elements in the MoD would like the IAF to wait till the Russians are finally ready with their MiG-AT. The IAF is all set now to realise its long standing demand as the Defence Minister has set a definite time frame in Parliament for acquisition of these aircraft. The deal, which is likely to be finalised shortly, for outright purchase of 40 Hawk-100s, will be signed this year. There will also be a transfer of technology clause enabling the HAL to undertake indegenous production of the machine.
The AJT will be used as an intermediate aircraft to improve a prospective fighter pilot’s skills, after he completes his ab initio flying training in the Air Force Academy it would provide a safe transition from the basic trainer to sophisticated high performance combat aircraft. The induction of this new machine will result in a two-phase training system. The IAF feels that this will provide the Service with more capable and skilled pilots in a shorter time span that will be cost effective in the long run and justify the proposed investment of more than Rs 6000 crores. Due weightage could have been given to the French Alphajet, another short-listed machine, which was almost of the same vintage. Though the Alphajet is no longer being produced due to commercial considerations, its manufacturers, Dassault Broguet, were ready to transfer the complete assembly line from
. For the Hawk too, similar bargain is being struck with British Aerospace for setting up manufacturing facilities, if accepted, production of this AJT should start from 2004 onwards in India.
According to the BAe, the Hawk is being used by 17 air forces around the world as an advanced trainer due to its exceptional performance and operational qualities. In the
, this aircraft is also being used as a weapons trainer to impart instructions on operational tactics, air- to- air and air-to-ground firing, air combat and low level operating procedures to student pilots destined for jet fighter squadrons. The British Royal Air Force has assigned these advanced trainers a war role also as point defence fighters. To fulfil this role, the aircraft carries two Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and a 30mm
cannon. The IAF, likewise, can use them for a future combat role, if deemed necessary.
There is no doubt that the Hawk-100 when it joins service would to be a significant asset for imparting training in modern air combat. But how will it help in reducing aircraft accidents? The Defence Minister whilst announcing the likely conclusion of the deal in Parliament, did not agree with the prevalent view that the lack of AJTs had led to frequent MiG crashes. He attributed several other reasons for these unfortunate trends, without clearly specifying them.