Big boost to self-reliance: India approves $1-billion purchase of 106 HAL-made trainer aircraft

Photo: India’s Hindustan Aeronautics-built HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft.

(Editor’s Note: Updated with details of the aircraft deal’s worth in paragraph one and additional information on the drone upgrade in the last paragraph.)

By N. C. Bipindra

New Delhi: In a major win for self-reliance in aerospace and defence sectors, India today gave approvals to the air force to buy 106 Basic Trainer Aircraft made by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for at least Rs 7,600 crore ($1.01 billion).

The procurement will give a boost to rookie pilots training and to the ‘Make in India‘ initiative of the Narendra Modi government.

At the meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh, procurement proposals worth Rs 8,722.38 crore ($1.2 billion) were approved, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defence.

“To strengthen the armed forces by relying on indigenous capability to take forward the initiative on ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat‘, the DAC in its meeting held under the chairmanship of defence minister Rajnath Singh accorded approval for capital acquisitions of various platforms and equipment required by the Indian armed forces. Proposals for an approximate cost of Rs 8,722.38 crore were approved,” the statement said.

In particular, the decision on the HAL-built Hindustan Turbo Trainer or HTT-40 is a major win for the defence public sector undertaking that had self-funded the design and development of the aircraft.

HAL had pitched it as an alternative to the Swiss-origin Pilatus Aircraft‘s PC-7 turbo trainer tandem seating plane, 75 of which were bought in 2012 by India for near Rs 3,000 crore but the deal got into a controversy reportedly over violation of contract provisions, resulting in the air force dropping plans to buy 38 more of these planes.

The Indian defence ministry banned business dealings with the Swiss aircraft maker for a year in July 2019 but decided to allow purchase of spares and components from the company to operate the 75 in-service PC-7 aircraft.

Now, with HAL having successfully developed the HTT-40 prototypes and the certification process underway, the DAC approved procurement of 106 Basic Trainer Aircraft from HAL to address the basic training requirements of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

“Post Certification 70 Basic Trainer Aircraft will be initially procured from HAL and (the) balance 36 after operationalisation of HTT-40 fleet in the IAF,” the defence ministry said regarding the decision.

Other procurement decisions:

To improve the fire power of the Indian Navy, the DAC approved procurement of an upgraded version of Super Rapid Gun Mount (SRGM), which is fitted as the main gun on board navy and Indian Coast Guard (ICG) warships from state-run Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL).

“The upgraded version of SRGM has enhanced capability to perform against fast manoeuvring targets like missiles and Fast Attack Craft, and increase the maximum engagement range.”

In view of the availability of requisite capability for indigenous development of the ammunition, both in terms of ‘Manufacturing‘ and ‘Technology‘, the DAC approved procurement of 125mm APFSDS (Armour Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot) ammunition for the Indian Army as a ‘Design and Development Case’.

The ammunition being procured will have a 70 per cent indigenous content.

The DAC also gave approvals that are likely to speed up the procurement of AK-203 assault rifles being built under a joint venture with Russia at an ordnance factory in Uttar Pradesh, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle upgrades, which is expected to be the arming of the in-service Israeli-origin Herons under ‘Project Cheetah’, though the information is not given out officially. 

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