J C Menon
India is to buy 106 basic trainer aircraft from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to end reliance on Swiss manufacturer Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) accorded its Acceptance of Necessity (AoN), the first step towards buying military hardware in India, for 106 Hindustan Turbo Trainer 40 (HTT-40) aircraft on 11th August 2020.
The aircraft, which is expected to get the Basic Operational Clearance certification prior to its induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF), has been undergoing a string of elaborate tests at HAL to demonstrate that it is safe for rookie pilots and meets the IAF’s exacting standards for trainer aircraft. Earlier this year, the aircraft successfully conducted hot refuelling while the engine was running, and before that, the prototype had undergone the so-called “six-turn spin test”, regarded as the most difficult test for a trainer aircraft.
The HTT-40 has already met the ‘Air Staff Qualitative Requirements’ which lists the flight performance (speed, turn, ceiling etc) that the IAF demands from an aircraft, meaning HAL could begin production early next year. Basic trainers feature on the government’s negative import list that seeks to ban the import of 101 different types of weapons, systems and ammunition over the next five years.
In July 2019, the Ministry of Defence suspended business dealings with Pilatus for one year over a violation of a pre-contract integrity pact in a deal for 75 basic trainers, while the ministry also said investigations by Indian agencies discovered that the Swiss firm had engaged in corrupt practices to win the PC-12 Mark II basic trains contract (which also included a clause for a follow-on purchase of 38 more aircraft). The import ban, announced on 9th August 2020, also covers equipment ranging from guns to warships and missiles, all types India is trying to renew.