Just about the time the Indian Air Force has begun to feel a little reassured that it will be able to conclude a contract for desperately needed basic propeller trainers, another equally daunting challenge has popped up. By early 2014, the IAF's 81 HJT-16 Kiran Mk.1 & Mk.2 intermediate jet trainers will stop flying, reaching the end of their total technical life. Now the Kiran's replacement, the HJT-36 Sitara
, was supposed to have begun deliveries in June this year. The programme hasn't even achieved initial operational clearance (IOC), originally scheduled for July 2011, a milestone indefinitely put off after a prototype crash three months before it.
Now here's the thing: the IAF had hoped the induction of the HJT-36 and the phase out of the Kiran would overlap, allowing for a small period of time when both aircraft would be operational together. This, now, almost certainly won't be the case, say sources, considering the substantial proving work the HJT-36 still has ahead of it before it is ready for final operational clearance. And under no circumstances can the Kirans be pushed beyond early 2014. Therefore, the prospect (hopefully) of having a small number of new propeller trainers, a full fleet of advanced jet trainers and no Stage-2 aircraft is becoming increasingly real. In fact, the IAF is already accounting
for such a scenario. The IAF has no plans to buy intermediate trainers from abroad. But remember, that's precisely what they once said about basic trainers as well.
The IAF signed a contract with HAL for 12 Limited Series Production (LSP) HJT-36 aircraft in March 2006 and 73 fully certified aircraft in March 2010 with deliveries scheduled from June 2012. As the IAF said to a recent Parliamentary committee, "The project is running behind schedule."