Friday, October 19, 2007

Wait over, IAF’s advanced jet trainers to arrive next month

New Delhi, October 17: More than two decades after the Indian Air Force (IAF) asked for an advanced jet trainer aircraft to curb pilot losses and bridge a crucial gap in its fighter training programme, the first batch of two BAE Hawk trainer aircraft are scheduled to arrive in the country next month.

While more than 60 Indian pilots have already been trained on the Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT) at the RAF Valley in Wales, the first two aircraft to be based at the IAF Flying School at Bidar airbase will arrive next month after a 12-day ferry flight from the UK.

“A lot of things have to be organised but the target date of leaving of the first two is November 7. Depending on various factors, six aircraft should be arriving in India by the year-end,” Guy Douglas, Head of Communications, Middle East & India, BAE Systems, confirmed.

The Bidar airbase, which currently houses the Kiran Mk II trainers, has been upgraded to receive the new aircraft. “New infrastructure, like a special tarmac, a new hangar and parking bay has been set up at the airbase. The runway has also been extended to facilitate training,” an IAF officer said. He added that a formal induction ceremony would be conducted later this year at the airbase.

India had ordered 66 trainers from BAE—24 will come in a ready to fly configuration while Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will manufacture the rest at Bangalore.

The AJT’s will bridge a crucial gap in the third stage of the IAF’s fighter training programme by replacing the accident-prone MiG 21 FL aircraft that were phased out last month. The MiG 21 had the reputation of being a very unforgiving aircraft with an extremely low margin for error that was unsuitable for training.

Like most defence procurements, the AJT deal has faced numerous complications, delays and promises of indigenous development. IAF first floated its requirement for the aircraft in 1985 but the programme went into a deep freeze till 1999 when two vendors—BAE and Dassault— were short-listed.
However, the contract was finalised by the NDA Government only in 2003 after public criticism on the increasing number of accidents involving the MiG 21s that were being used in a training role.

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