Ravi Sharma

BANGALORE: The inability of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to meet the delivery schedules of the Hawk-132 advanced jet trainer has delayed the Indian Air Force's fighter pilot training programme.

Faced with a shortage of around 300 pilots in the flying branch and with the acquisition process of a number of fighter aircraft under way, the IAF had, in 2009, increased the intake at their Academy, with the present batch being the biggest ever. But, the cadets in the fighter stream don't have enough British-designed Hawks to train in.

As per a $1.2 billion contract signed in 2004 between BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence, HAL is assembling under licence 42 Hawk trainers in Bangalore. It was to have delivered 23 by March and the rest by next March; it delivered just eight Hawks, throwing the IAF's training plans into a spin.

Officials said the IAF who use the Hawks (along with the aging Kirans) during the third and fourth semesters of their training programme had formulated plans keeping in mind the numbers indicated by HAL. Further, during a review meeting in 2009, chaired by Defence Minister A.K. Antony, HAL had been directed to cite realistic numbers. And it had consistently insisted that it would keep delivery schedules.

Sources also disclosed that some of the HAL-assembled Hawks had already developed serviceability issues. A riveting problem on the last one to be delivered even necessitated the removal of the engine.

Said an officer: “HAL's habit of delivering a bunch of aircraft at the fag end of a financial year in a bid to meet deadlines on paper results in poor quality control. The IAF is then forced to divert manpower for what is essentially HAL's job.”

HAL officials, while admitting awry schedules, have blamed BAE Systems for failing to effectively transfer technology, design drawings, tools, publications, manufacturing jigs and components for the assembling of Hawks in India.

There has also been a mismatch between the spares that BAE Systems had predicted would be needed and what are actually needed. HAL sources said almost 90 per cent of the over $3 million worth of spares bought as per those predictions have not been consumed.

In June 2009, HAL had even sought $10 million from BAE Systems for problems faced during the assembly of the Hawks. However, BAE Systems consistently stated that it adhered to its “contractual obligations and is ready to help”. It has also rejected HAL's demands.

BAE spokesman Guy Douglas went on record saying: “In June 2009, we received a claim from HAL, relating to issues that arose during the licence build of Hawks. This claim was rejected as we believe that the requirements of the contract had been met.”