Tuesday, 25 October 2011

21 more Hawks for IAF's Surya Kiran aerobatics display team



Procurement of Hawk trainers has begun for the Indian Air Force's Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team, one of only three in the world that fly nine-aircraft aerobatics. An additional 21 Hawks will be contracted with BAE Systems, besides the 123 Hawks that India has already bought.



by Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
25th Oct 11

The Indian Air Force’s vaunted aerobatics display team, the Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team (SKAT), could soon be enthralling spectators with cutting-edge aircraft. The IAF has initiated the procurement of 21 additional Hawk aircraft, built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore. Hawk advanced jet trainers would allow SKAT to fly faster, turn tighter and manoeuvre more spectacularly, than was possible with the vintage Kiran Mark II trainer aircraft that they have flown since 1996.

With the additional Hawk procurement underway, HAL chief, Ashok Nayak told Business Standard that HAL would build another 21 Hawks as soon as it completes the 123 aircraft, ordered by the IAF and the Indian Navy. “The IAF has initiated the follow-on procurement of 21 additional Hawks from BAE Systems. These are mainly for its aerobatics team, but also to replace the couple of Hawks that have been lost in crashes,” says Ashok Nayak, the HAL Chairman.

The SKAT, highly regarded despite the old aircraft it performs in, is one of the few aerobatics teams that fly nine aircraft in close formation. To stage its heavy and technically demanding routine of nine-aircraft performances, the SKAT is authorised 18-19 aircraft.

The only other military aerobatics teams that fly nine-aircraft formations are the UK Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows, which also fly the Hawk; and the Snowbirds, from the Royal Canadian Air Force. Other aerobatics teams perform with fewer aircraft. The Thunder Birds (US Air Force), with six aircraft; Blue Angels (US Navy), with six aircraft; the August 1st Aerobatics Team (China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF), with six aircraft; and the Patrouille de France (French Air Force), with eight aircraft. The Russian Knights (Russian Air Force) have flown varying numbers of aircraft, but never nine.

For the pilots of SKAT, the transition to Hawks represents a generational shift. Before SKAT was formed with the Kiran Mark II in 1996, another IAF aerobatics team, “The Thunderbolts”, flew the Hawker Hunter fighter. The Thunderbolts, too, performed nine-aircraft routines.

Besides the advantages of switching to the Hawk, the withdrawal of the Kiran Mark II from SKAT is driven by another pressing reason: the IAF’s shortage of trainer aircraft.

The entire IAF fleet of HPT-32 Deepak basic trainers has been grounded since July 09, after 19 pilots died in 17 Deepak crashes over the years. Today, IAF rookies are herded for their first flying lessons into the relatively complex Kiran Mark I aircraft. For the next stage of intermediate training the IAF requires all the Kiran Mark IIs that it can muster. In the circumstances, maintaining an entire squadron (the SKAT team comprises the IAF’s No 52 squadron) for aerobatics seemed unjustifiable.

But, given SKAT’s glamour quotient, the IAF is keen to get it back in the air. Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne has demanded the team starts performing again in their new Hawks within three years.

Going by HAL’s projections, that seems unachievable. HAL is projected to finish building IAF’s first order of 66 Hawks (contracted in 2004 for Rs 6,600 crore) by mid-2012. Thereafter, 57 more Hawks have to be manufactured for the IAF and the Indian Navy as per a Rs 5,500 crore contract signed last year.

“Next year we will build 13-14 Hawks; and then step up production to 19 Hawks from 2013 onwards. That means 57 Hawks will be delivered by late 2015. Then we can build 21 more Hawks by the end of 2016,” says Nayak.

For the struggling UK aerospace industry, that opens an intriguing prospect: will the IAF insist on building its latest order of 21 Hawks in the UK, arguing a pressing need to get the SKAT performing again? Industry sources say, given the recent budget cuts in the British aerospace industry, this would be a welcome proposal.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wish you and your family a very very happy Diwali Colonel saab.
Also, would like to thank you for your very good Blogs.
Nagaraj Bellary, Jamnagar.

Anonymous said...

Why has no Indian defence journo written about how the BAE Hawk issues were resolved? Ajai, can you please write about it. We need to know what happened and, more importantly, how it was resolved.

Rahul said...

It is utter stupid that SKAT selected HAWKS over IJT. Aerobatic and formation display teams display much more than professionalism, they display might of the nation which is collective of military and civilian (technical fraternity). With HAWKS SKAT will be nothing but second Red Arrow and portray nothing other than its legacy -- Royal Indian Air Force.

Vaporizer said...

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Prodyut said...

Given the uncertainty with the LCA the IAF may be stocking up on the Hawk as a second string CAS aircraft a role in which the Hawk will be just as good as the LCA for most conditions.Forget All weather capability.Remember that M2K was grounded for two days by the weather during Kargil.

HGH reviews said...

The only other military aerobatics teams that fly nine-aircraft formations are the UK Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows, which also fly the Hawk; and the Snowbirds, from the Royal Canadian Air Force. Other aerobatics teams perform with fewer aircraft. The Thunder Birds (US Air Force), with six aircraft; Blue Angels (US Navy), with six aircraft; the August 1st Aerobatics Team (China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF), with six aircraft; and the Patrouille de France (French Air Force), with eight

Anonymous said...

Oh well. So what is happening to the IJT ? Kiran to IJT would have been the logical transition!

Abid said...

Dear Ajay Sir,
With induction of Hawks in IAF aerobatics team, the days of glory will again come. Before Suryakirans, there IAF Thunderbolts (Hunters) were a delight. These new planes will do very tight maneuvers and circuit loops. Great to keep up spirits of airwarriors and airwatchers.

Anonymous said...

Very sad, a very big blow to the IJT programme though this was known long before. Aerobatics display teams should be used to showcase our country's manufacturing prowess and not that of another country. By this logic, let's remove the Druvs from the Sarangs and replace them with the Kamov/Chetak/Cheetah or other foreign types. I feel the Surya Kirans should have been kept dormant till the IJT came on stream.

Der Hacker, Der Nie War said...

@Ajai Shukla

Firstly, happy deepavali !

Q : Doesnt the word 'vaunted' mean excessive praise which the Suryakiran team doesn't necessarily deserve ? mean what is wrong with the team ? They surely deserve their praise, dont they ?