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Advanced Jet Trainer [AJT]

India wanted the Advanced Jet Trainer [AJT] to improve the flying skills of its air force pilots who now move straight from basic flying machines to MiG-21 jet fighters. The air force has an embarrassing record of accidents and has lost about 200 aircraft since 1991. The AJT became the most widely reported but comatose military project in the history of the armed forces.

Licensed production by Hindustan Aeronautics is an important part of the AJT requirement, which included 42 from HAL assembly, following 24 from the original constructors in the planned initial batch of 66 aircraft. The need for an AJT was first articulated by the IAF in 1982 and ever since has remained high on IAFs agenda for procurement. The IAF felt that there existed a quantum difference in the skill and judgement levels required of a yong fighter pilot as he transited to state of the art fighters such as the Su-30 MKI, Mirage 2000 and MiG-29. The Hawk 132 would adequately serve as lead in trainer for these advanced aircraft.

The La Fontaine committee set up to make an in-depth study into the accident pattern and entire training process found noticeable co-relation between the pattern of training and aircraft accidents. It pointed out in 1982 that there exists a quantum jump in skill/judgement as IAF had no suitable operational transitional trainer aircraft to fill the intervening gap before the pilots are taken on to the operational fighter aircraft. The Ministry stated that Hunter and MiG-21 were not specially designed as advanced trainer and had some limitations for imparting air combat and weapon delivery training. It added that acquisition of an advance jet trainer (AJT) would enable the IAF to impart better operational training to the pilots. As no AJT was acquired by IAF the stage III training continued on Hunter and MiG-21.

The idea of the trainer was mooted in 1983, the Air Staff Requirement prepared next year and after government approval in 1986, a joint IAF-HAL-DRDO team evaluated the British Hawk and Franco-German Alfa Jet.

The Chief of the Air Staff [CAS] viewed the lack of AJT as one of the reasons affecting the aircrew performance and stated, in May 1992, that the use of an operational trainer such as MiG-21 for advanced jet training exposes the young inexperienced pilot prematurely to an operational type without essential transitional training on AJT. In April 1995, the Ministry had highlighted to Prime Minister's office that lack of AJT was the main reason for human error accidents as pilots converting on sophisticated MiG-21 from Kiran/ Iskra trainers had difficulties in coping with the quantum jump in performance and technology of MiG-21's as compared to pilots converting on Hunters.

The AJT program came close to fruition by early 1996, but the Russian MiG-AT trainer [which had not been fully developed] was added to the shortlisted aircraft Alfa jet and Hawk. Four years later, the MiG-AT failed to materialise. Production was slated to begin in 2001, with the first of the AJTs being delivered somewhere around 2004. The UK Government continue to support British Aerospace's efforts to export up to 60 surplus Hawk aircraft trainers to India, but, as of late 2001 the decision rested with the Indian Government.

Although out of production for many years, as of early 2000 the Alpha Jet had been short-listed, alongside BAE's Hawk. A decision on the AJT -- due in November 1999 -- was stalled by Indian politicians, who wanted to the evaluation process to include several previously-rejected contenders. Among these were Russia's MiG-AT and YakAEM-130, although neither had yet achieved full-scale production.

In August 2001 the Ministry of Defence ruled out the purchase of the Hawk for its Advanced Jet Trainer requirement. At that time, the aircraft seen as most likely to be purchased was the Russian MiG-AT, a plane that had not even entered service with the Russian Air Force. The aircraft was much cheaper than the Hawk at around $15 to 16 million each. In September 2000, the government had said it would buy the British manufactured Hawk advanced jet trainer made by British Aerospace. But the price quoted for each aircraft (approximately $21 million) was unacceptable. MiG RUSSIAN Aircraft Corporation (RCA) planned to enter into an agreement with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for building MiG-AT, trainer aircraft in India. As of April 2002 the Indian Air Force had evaluated MIG-AT, but this had not met some of the essential parameters laid down by Indian Air Force for the Advance Jet Trainer.

The Indian air force agreed to buy 66 Hawk trainer fighter jets from the UK with designation as Hawk-i; (Hawk-India). In February 2003, India awarded a $1.7bn contract to supply the trainer fighter jets to the UK company, BAE Systems. The Hawk beat a rival bid from a state-run Czech firm. India would buy 24 Hawks outright and build the rest under BAE licence in the southern city of Bangalore. Negotiations over the possible British sale of Hawk jets to India went on for over a decade. In September 2003, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee decided to go ahead with the deal given recent MiG-21 crashes. The IAF had been asking for trainers for 20 years and had purchased 27 second-hand MiG-21 trainers from Krygystan as a temporary solution.



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