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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.

Subsequently, the Indian air force agreed to buy 66 Hawk trainer fighter jets from the UK. 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.

The contract for supply of the Hawk AJT was signed between the IAF and BAE Systems in 2004. The deal envisaged a supply of 66 aircraft, 24 built in the UK and 42 license produced by HAL at Bangalore. IAF pilots and technicians were trained at BAE Systems facilities at Warton and Brough in UK. Of the 66 trainer, it was finally decided that 22 would be delivered in "fly-away" condition and the rest would be manufactured in India under license under a technology-transfer deal. The IAF had originally wanted 160 AJTs but reduced that number to 66 due to budget constraints.

On 23 February 2008, when the Honourable Raksha Mantri Shri AK Antony formally inducted the Hawk 132 Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) into service, an important milestone in the history of the IAF would be reached. This event will mark the fulfillment of a long-standing requirement of the IAF for an AJT that will effectively bridge the gap between the slow jet trainer such as the Kiran and the advanced fighter aircraft currently in IAFs inventory.

The initial four Hawk aircraft were flown from Warton to Bidar by a combined team of BAE Systems and IAF pilots. Bidar airfield, located in the North West of Karnataka, approx 150 Km from Hyderabad, was chosen as the main operating base for the Hawk. This base has been a training establishment for budding fighter pilots of the IAF since 1963. To ensure the smooth induction of the Hawk, the Air Warriors under the command of Air Commodore Ramesh Rai have worked tirelessly to put the required infrastructure in place. They were, at all stages, assisted by the local civil authorities and population. The work services included extension of the two runways, improvement in landing facilities and creation of servicing facilities for the technology intensive Hawk aircraft. The first two aircraft arrived at Bidar on 12 November 2007.

The Hawk AJT which India finalised after a 20-year drawn out drama encountered turbulence shortly after it was selected by the IAF. Upset over Britains inability or perhaps unwillingness to supply spares to HAL, which is assembling the Hawk in India, the IAF shelved plans to place follow-on orders and instead floated a new tender in 2009.

The Indian Navy inducted the Hawk 132, a fourth generation Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft, on 06 November 2013 at an impressive ceremony held at Naval Air Station INS Dega. Admiral DK Joshi, Chief of the Naval Staff, was the chief guest at the event. Four aircraft had been delivered to the Navy, marking the beginning of seventeen such fighter trainers to be acquired over the next few years.

British engineering company Rolls Royce, which produces the Hawk, was accused of bribing officials at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, an Indian state-owned company, between 2005 and 2009, acting as middlemen by ensuring that the Air Force used them to source Adour Mk aero engines engines for the 132 British Hawk advanced jet trainers. In early January 2016, the company had to pay more than $800 million after being accused of bribing allegations that implicated intermediaries in a number of overseas markets including the UK, Brazil and the US.

An investigation by the BBC uncovered evidence suggesting that 100 million (about $125,540,000) was passed to companies that are connected to Indian arms dealer Sudhir Choudhrie. A lawyer for Choudrie stated that his client "has never paid bribes to government officials or acted as an illegal middleman in defence deals." Following the settlement, Rolls Royce CEO Warren East issued an apology saying, "The behaviour uncovered in the course of the investigations by the (UKs) Serious Fraud Office and other authorities is completely unacceptable and we apologise unreservedly for itAlong with colleagues around the world, I share a sense of disappointment and anger at how some people within our company behaved."

By September 2016 India was poised to place an order for an additional batch of Hawk advanced jet trainers under a Rs 3,500-crore deal to meet requirements of the Air Force and Navy. The new deal for 32 jet trainers would add to the 123 aircraft already ordered for the Indian armed forces. The Navy had a requirement of at least eight more Hawks to train fighter pilots for the MiG 29K fleet, and the Air Force required additional planes for its Suryakiran aerobatic team that had been reconstituted after a long break.

By early 2017 India had contracted 123 Hawk Mk-132 AJT aircraft from BAE Systems for the IAF and the Navy. Another order for 20 aircraft to equip the Surya Kiran aerobatics team was in an advanced stage. HAL was assembling the Hawks in India under a license.

A senior official with IAF told Defense News 23 February 2017, "We will not make any formal request for the Advanced Hawk to HAL, and the program will be officially shelved. This is because the MoD does not want [to] give additional orders for engines to tainted Rolls-Royce for the Advanced Hawk program"IAF has no intentions to place any order for the Advanced Hawk trainers."

Combat Hawk

By 2017 Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and BAE aimed to woo the attention of countries which are potential targets of the Pakistan-China developed JF-17 Thunder. India's government controlled Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) planned to aggressively market the upgraded advanced Hawk trainer jets during the 11th edition of Aero India to be held in Bengaluru from 14 February 2017.

HAL in 2015 signed an MoU with BAE Systems UK for upgradation of Hawk Mk132, development of Combat Hawk for Indian and export markets and maintenance solutions for supporting Jaguar and Hawk fleet. "Combat Hawk" involves fitting air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground guns, besides, rockets and bombs to the plane. Such an aircraft, slower than a fighter jet, can be useful for operations in forested areas and in low mountains. Moreover, many countries cannot afford to spend big on bigger fighter aircraft and hence the project has a lot of export potential.

The trainer jet jointly developed by HAL and BAE of the United Kingdom hoped to find foreign takers despite lukewarm response from the Indian Air Force for which it was mainly intended. Informed sources suggested that it is unlikely that HAL-BAE developed combat trainer would find any orders from Indian forces. "Forces did not discuss any purchase plan for combat Hawk."

The Indian Air Force already operated 123 Hawk MK-132 jets for advanced training for pilots. HAL and BAE had agreed to develop the advanced combat version in year 2015. The aircraft is capable of carrying 3000 kilogram of weapons consisting air-to-air missiles; air-to-surface missiles; air-to-surface rocket and bombs.

Manufacturer claims the advanced Hawk will reduce training demands on more expensive frontline aircraft, creating additional capacity for operational tasks, whilst delivering fast jet training in a more cost-effective, structured and safer environment.

"Together with HAL, we are looking forward to show this industry-funded demonstrator to the Indian and other air forces and seeking their feedback on the combination of features that will better prepare student combat pilots for the demands of frontline aircraft," Stephen Timms, MD- Defense Information, Training & Services at BAE said.

Hawk is being produced by HAL under license from BAE allowing production of the combat jet for export. "High commonality with the existing Hawk production and support infrastructure in India enables the advanced Hawk to be manufactured and supported with maximum reuse of facilities, equipment and skills," BAE said.

HAL-BAE aim to sell approximately 300 advanced Hawks across the world. The state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is hoping that the Combat Hawk will be an ideal export product besides being used domestically.

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