BUSINESS

IJT caps good year for HAL

THE ARTICLE `Making haste, carefully' (The Hindu, December 26, 2002) described the first prototype of the intermediate jet trainer (IJT) in its final fabrication stage, a short eighteen months after `metal cutting' began. The last three months have seen the ARDC (Hindustan Aircraft's aviation research and development centre) set a frenetic pace to get the aircraft in the air as early as possible, without cutting corners. The IJT first flew on March 7 followed by a formal inaugural flight ten days ago in the presence of the Defence Minister. A second prototype is expected by the end of the year with deliveries to the Indian Air Force beginning in 2005 or 2006.

HAL's current financial year ending today should see turnover increase to about Rs. 3,000 crores, ten per cent up on last year. This would have risen by a further Rs. 400 crores plus if five Jaguar strike aircraft that are virtually complete mechanically had been delivered to the Air Force. Smiths of the U.K., which was to develop the navigation and attack systems for these aircraft, not only reneged on the contract, but had the cheek to ask for substantial time and cost overruns. To his credit, N. R. Mohanty, HAL's chairman, put his foot down and is now having the systems developed indigenously. This may lead to a delay of eighteen months in delivering the first batch of aircraft, but will certainly end up saving the country a fair amount in the long run.

Getting back to the IJT, it began as a `private venture initiative' primarily meant to replace the Kiran basic jet trainers that are nearing the end of their lives, some after sterling service of nearly forty years. The HAL designed Kirans impart the essential `Phase II' basic training intermediate between the primary flying carried out on piston engined Deepaks (again HAL designed) and flying fast jets. Basic training is also used to select those who will qualify as fighter pilots as opposed to those who will fly transport aircraft or helicopters.

The HJT-36, as the IJT is formally named, is a conventional low wing, tandem-seat trainer (unlike the side-by-seat Kiran) with a turbofan engine from Snecma of France. Visibility from the air-conditioned cockpit is good, with 15 degrees in front and 8 degrees to the rear, and the displays are of the modern liquid crystal type. The aircraft has, above all, been designed to be simple to fly and to maintain.

On a more critical note, the overly long take-off roll during the inaugural flight seems to indicate that it is slightly underpowered with its current engine, the Larzac 04-20, but that is expected to be addressed on production versions with 20 per cent more thrust. One hopes, however, that HAL is not as sanguine with respect to the integrated avionics suite that is to be developed by the aforementioned Smiths of England.

The successful first flights of the IJT must recall the uncertain fate of the advanced jet trainer, the AJT, which has been on the IAF's wish list for nearly two decades. The BAE Hawk continues to be the front-runner, but India needs to ensure that if this aircraft is finally ordered, it is fitted with the advanced Adour 851 engine, rather than the older 871 currently on offer, and that the avionics are based on an `open architecture' with a Mil Std 1553 bus.

The new engine is 8 per cent more powerful, and much more importantly, offers very low life cycle costs thanks to a doubled `life' and over 4000 hours between overhauls. On the other hand, an open architecture ensures that the inevitable avionics upgrades during a typical trainer's long life are easily accomplished.

C. Manmohan Reddy

Recommended for you