By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Nov 2015
Swiss company Pilatus Aircraft Ltd announced on Tuesday that it had completed delivery of the 75th and last PC-7 Mark II basic trainer aircraft (BTA) purchased by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The last aircraft has been painted with a special commemorative livery (see photo).
On May 24, 2012, Pilatus and India’s defence ministry signed a Swiss Franc 557 million (about Rs 4,000 crore) contract for 75 PC-7 Mark II BTAs. The first trainer was delivered in February 2013, and the entire delivery completed in 42 months.
Pilatus is now poised to receive another IAF order for 38 more Pilatus, estimated to be worth about Swiss Francs 228 million (Rs 1,550 crore). This will be placed under the “options clause” of the initial contract, which grants India the right to procure, at the same price as the first 75 trainers, another 50 per cent of the initial order.
The defence ministry cleared this purchase in February, but cabinet sanction will be needed before actually signing the contract.
The decision to buy the Pilatus was dogged by controversy from the start. Business Standard reported (February 14, “Defence ministry official questions whether Pilatus was cheapest trainer”) details of an internal defence ministry note, in which an official demanded that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar be informed about serious flaws in the calculations that led to Pilatus being declared the lowest bidder.
Earlier, in 2011, the Korean defence minister had personally requested his Indian counterpart, AK Antony, for a “high-level review” of the selection of the Pilatus. The Koreans contended that their KT-1 trainer was distinctly cheaper over its service life.
Notwithstanding the controversy over its selection, Pilatus has pleased the IAF with its speed of delivery of the PC-7 Mark II. According to Pilatus Aircraft Ltd, “Since the first delivery in February 2013, the PC-7 Mk II fleet has flown more than 40,000 hours and accumulated well over 80,000 landings”.
IAF officers also talk up the reliability of the PC-7 Mark II. According to figures released today by Pilatus, “The PC-7 Mk II has enabled the IAF to increase the basic training syllabus in terms of flight hours by 220 per cent… and also increase the solo content from 1 to 14 sorties.”
Meanwhile, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is developing an indigenous BTA, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 (HTT-40). This is expected to fly early in 2016 and, after two years of flight-testing, seventy HTT-40s will be built to bring the IAF basic trainer fleet to its sanctioned level of 181 aircraft.
IAF rookie pilots fly the propeller-driven Pilatus PC-7 Mark II (and they will fly the HTT-40 when it is ready) in Stage-1 training, the first of three training stages needed to graduate to frontline fighters. In Stage-2 training, they fly the Kiran trainer, which will eventually be replaced by the Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT), which HAL is developing. Finally, pilots do Stage-3 training on the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT), which HAL builds under licence from BAE Systems.