HAL's IJT Delayed, IAF Scouts Foreign Source

The face-off between the Indian Air Force and HAL over the basic trainer programme festers nastily, much of it in public. But here's something that's been in the pipeline for a while now. And it gives me no pleasure to say I told you so.

The IAF has published a request for information to support a potential acquisition of intermediate (Stage-II) jet trainers from abroad "for a primary task of Stage–II training of Pilots and also capable to undertake a secondary task of Counter Insurgent Operations" (sic).

This was inevitable. The IAF has grumbled about HAL's delayed HJT-36 Sitara for months now. Last month, in a perplexing note to Parliament, the MoD said the Sitara was scheduled to achieve final operational clearance (FOC) by December 2014 (there's been no word on IOC, though). The IAF announcing a requirement in the global market could mean many things: (a) It simply doesn't have faith that HAL will deliver the HJT-36 on time anymore -- the HJT-36 should have been in service by June 2012. (b) It does not have faith in the aircraft itself (spin and stall recovery characteristics remain largely unproven). (c) A psychological pressure tactic on HAL, not unprecedented -- it's on right now on the basic trainer domain.

Either way, the IAF has put out a very specific list of requirements. To quote from the RFI:
The aircraft should be easy to fly and have good control response/agility. The flying qualities should preferably conform to Mil-F-8785C and Mil Std 1797-A. The aircraft should demonstrate the following qualities: (a) Stalling. An unmistakable natural stall warning should be available, irrespective of the configuration. (b) Spinning. The aircraft must be resistant to spin but it should be possible to perform intentional spin upto six turns to either side and recover safely thereafter. The aircraft behavior in the spin should be predictable and consistent. (c) Aerobatics The IJT should be capable of performing loops, barrel rolls, rolls, combination maneuvers and negative ‘g’ flight without adverse effects on the engine and aircraft structure. The aircraft should be capable of sustained inverted flight for at least 30 seconds at sea level at maximum takeoff power.
Interestingly, the IAF has also specified a 'counter-insurgency' role for the platform it's looking for. In 2011, HAL began the process to kit out the HJT-36 with armament. For its freshly stated requirement, it has specified the following:
The aircraft should be capable of carrying at least 1000 kg of external load. The aircraft should be equipped with a minimum of five hard points and each hard point on the wing should be stressed to carry at least 300 kg stores. The aircraft should be, free from buffet, dutch roll, snaking and wing rock during air to ground weapon training. The aircraft should be capable of employing the following armament: (a) Gun. A light weight gun/ gun-pod with adequate ammunition for at least 5 sec of firing time. (b) Rocket Pods. Reusable rocket pods. (c) Bombs. Should be able to carry at least 4x250 kg retarded or ballistic bombs. The stations should be capable of employing Carrier Bomb Light Stores (CBLS) type of dispensers for carriage of practice bombs (25 lbs and 3 Kg).

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