Defence PSUs must be penalised for non-delivery
The Indian Air Force (IAF) chief’s letter, which reportedly recommended the purchase of more Pilatus PC-7Mk2 basic trainer aircraft under the option clause and the foreclosure of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL’s) trainer aircraft project due to delay and higher projected costs, led to a media brouhaha. This only indicates a lack of understanding of matters military and the pressures exerted by vested interests and arms merchants who lose out on a contract. Our polity, in its endeavour to “look clean”, has a history of taking knee-jerk decisions to put such projects on hold, unmindful of the long-term impact it has on defence preparedness. The results of the Bofors and HDW submarine fiascos are being felt now, in the capability voids that exist. Does it require the loss of an INS Sindhurakshak to wake us up, only to slumber again till the next void becomes tragically evident? One just hopes that the same does not befall the basic trainer case, and that the aircraft, which would be the bedrock for the IAF’s operational readiness, comes in time and in the required numbers.
I was part of the briefing in which air headquarters took the momentous decision to ground all HPT-32 aircraft training rookies, who were to fly frontline aircraft like the Sukhois, C-17s and Apaches in later their service careers. The HPT-32 had the reputation of being a flying stone when its engine quit mid air (far too frequently, with almost five to six incidents per year). Despite numerous modifications by HAL, the large number of accidents had affected the confidence of young trainees and instructors. The implications of the grounding were grave but had to be surmounted to maintain an uninterrupted feeder line to operational squadrons. It was amply clear that the IAF would have to do some smart jugglery with its Kirans, the other trainer aircraft, to keep the feeder line going.
Much against many tenets of training philosophy, severe cutbacks in training profiles have had to be enforced and endured for the past four years. The Surya Kiran aerobatic team was temporarily disbanded and its Kirans were sent to the Air Force Academy to augment the training effort. With the new Pilatus coming in, the system was getting back on track when this controversy threatened to derail the process. There is just one question that begs an answer: if the air force does not