The Saga Of The Brand New IAF-HAL Fight & Blowback

I haven't seen the Indian Air Force come out with a longer clarification than it did recently in response to a pair of reports by friend and senior journalist Ajai Shukla. I'll allow this post to serve as a primer, since I've been getting questions about the entire affair.

It all began on July 29 with this post on Broadsword (published in Business Standard newspaper), which detailed a known war between the Indian Air Force and HAL over the latter's basic trainer development effort, the HTT-40. The next day, Ajai followed-up with this report, with far more damning assertions -- principally that IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Norman Browne had wilfully relaxed parameters to favour Swiss firm Pilatus Aircraft, which went on to win a contract for 75 PC-7 Mk.II basic trainers.

Hours after the second piece, the IAF sent out this long and unusually detailed clarification, denying all suggestions made in Ajai's piece. A day later, the journalist hit back, calling the IAF's statement a "verbose obfuscation". That was July 31. On the side, on the same day the Times Of India, the country's largest newspaper published this report titled IAF-HAL Tiff Threatens To Shatter Indigenisation Quest. The report details the historic acrimony that's bubbled to the surface between HAL and its principal customer over a raft of current projects, including the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA or PMF as HAL calls it).

On August 3, Ajai Shukla appeared on NDTV (a channel he formerly worked for) to defend his story, where he faced-off with former IAF deputy chief Air Marshal (Retd) N.V. Tyagi and former chief of the Western Air Command Air Marshal (Retd) Padamjit Ahluwalia. Both former IAF officers debunked Ajai's reports, while Ajai stood his ground.

And now, 42 minutes ago and 10 days after the controversy first broke afresh, HAL sends out this clunky statement, calling for an end to "all kinds of speculation". Interestingly, it devotes only a paragraph to the trainer controversy, but nearly two pages to a kind of brochuresque mish-mash of what it does, purportedly as a rejoinder to the whole IAF hates HAL smoke. Good try.

I don't yet have independent access to material on this story, so I don't have any of my own reporting I can do on it yet. Suffice it to say that the war between the IAF and HAL is a real one -- and the IAF is certainly more willing to tell it like it is, unlike HAL, which has been traditionally more dense about its relationships, taking most of them for granted at any given time. You'll hear more about this fight in the coming days.

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