By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Nov 13
The Indian Navy is on its way to becoming a major air force, with the fleet air arm having achieved several landmarks this year. In May, the first MiG-29K squadron was commissioned at INS Hansa in Goa, with twenty world-class Russian fighters. In August, the first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant was launched at Kochi. Later this month, Russia will hand over the INS Vikramaditya, formerly the Admiral Gorshkov, which will supplement the INS Viraat to become the navy’s second aircraft carrier.
Today the navy received its first Hawk-132 Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT), on which it will train the pilots that fly its MiG-29Ks and, when cleared to join the fleet, the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is building 17 Hawk AJTs for the navy.
The navy is on track to operate more than 300 fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. These including 45 MiG-29K/KUBs; over 50 Tejas LCAs; 8-12 Boeing P8 multi-mission aircraft; 36 Dornier 228 utility aircraft; 36 medium range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft; 5-10 long range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft; 90 medium helicopters; 59 naval utility helicopters; and more than 30 airborne early warning helicopters.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) currently gives naval pilots basic training on the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II, along with air force trainee pilots. After that, naval flyers branch off, doing Stage-2 training on the Kiran Mark I; and will now do Stage-3 training on the navy’s own Hawk fleet. Far-sighted naval planners say the day will come when the navy, emerging as a major operator of aircraft, will train all its pilots in-house.
“The induction of this highly capable (Hawk-132) aircraft will provide the much needed fillip to the training of combat pilots in the Navy by bridging the gap between basic flying training and advanced fighter flying,” said the navy today.
While Stage-1 and Stage-2 training mainly hone a pilot’s flying skills, Stage-3 training on the Hawk involves combat flying, which includes advanced navigation and the use of airborne weapons.
The Hawk 132 has an advanced navigation system and can carry air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground rockets, bombs and guns. The trainee pilot learns how to use a HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) system that allows him to select weapons without removing his hands from the flying controls.
Capable of carrying two extra fuel tanks under its wings to extend its operating range, the Hawk can even be used in a combat role as a light strike aircraft.
HAL will deliver five Hawks to the navy this fiscal year, with the remaining 12 delivered over three years. While naval pilots train on these 17 AJTs, the IAF will fly 106 Hawk AJTs, making India the largest operator of Hawks in the world. Currently 18 countries operate almost 1000 Hawk trainers. The US Air Force could soon buy several hundred more under its so-called T-X trainer acquisition programme.
Meanwhile, BAE Systems, which is the original equipment manufacturer of the Hawk, has bid to supply 20 more Hawks for the IAF’s aerobatics team, Surya Kiran. This contract is being processed as a “follow on” procurement from the large earlier tenders, since the aerobatics aircraft is identical to the trainer, except for the fitment of smoke generators to increase the visibility of the aerobatics aircraft. The apex Defence Acquisition Council is believed to have cleared this.
A BAE Systems release on Wednesday quoted Guy Griffiths, group managing director-international, as saying, “We have also submitted our response to HAL’s Request for Proposal for a potential order to supply products and services for the manufacture of 20 additional Hawk aircraft to the IAF, and are now looking forward to partnering with HAL in providing the Indian Air Force's display team this fantastic aircraft.”