Making haste, carefully

BANGALORE DEC. 25. Media interest in `big ticket' items like the Su 30 MKI fighter, advanced jet trainers (AJTs), the aircraft carrier "Admiral Gorshkov,'' nuclear submarines, Agni missiles and so on has ignored an important `private venture' project from Hindustan Aeronautics, the intermediate jet trainer (IJT). On the other hand, the Air Force and Navy have enthusiastically embraced the IJT because they urgently need it to replace the nearly two hundred veteran Kiran basic jet trainers still in service.

The Kirans are used to impart the essential `Phase II' training intermediate between the primary flying carried out on piston engined Deepaks and flying fast jets. Basic training is also used to select those who will eventually qualify as fighter pilots, as opposed to those who will fly transports and helicopters. All these fine Indian designed aircraft are, unfortunately, reaching the ends of their lives in spite of the 750-hour airframe life extensions that HAL gave them in the late 1990s and the fifty de-rated Orpheus engines that were salvaged from decommissioned fighters.

The IJT project was kicked off about four years ago extensively using expertise and systems developed for the light combat aircraft programme. The new trainer is fitted with a French Larzac engine and an integrated avionics suite from Smiths of England, but virtually everything else is Indian designed and manufactured. The HJT-36 (as the IJT was originally called) is of conventional design but uses advanced aerodynamic and manufacturing techniques to make it at least contemporary with worldwide trends. It has, above all, been designed to be easy to use and maintain.

The first prototype is in an advanced state of completion with the hundreds of systems that are an essential part of all aircraft currently being fitted out in the airframe. This is a critical stage where short cuts are dangerous. On the other hand, a meticulous and thorough approach will pay rich dividends and actually hasten final completion.

This is particularly true at the prototype stage where compromises of any kind are often a recipe for disaster especially when driven by artificial deadlines. An Indian example of expensive hastiness is the `Trishul' anti-aircraft missile project that reports say is close to being abandoned largely because of the unnecessary shortcuts that were taken early on. In similar fashion, the American F-14 fighter's prototype crashed on its first flight because of a double hydraulic failure — a result of inadequate check out procedures.

The modest, but able, chairman of HAL has made integrity, credibility and quality (ICQ) his personal crusade. The IJT programme is an ideal opportunity for him to demonstrate that I,C and Q are issues over which he will brook no compromise, regardless of the consequences.

It is time for good men to stand up and be counted.