Crippled by the absence of a basic trainer aircraft, India will soon initial a deal to buy 75 Swiss-made Pilatus PC-7s.

After nearly a year’s wait, India's Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has approved the purchase of the PC-7 for the Indian air force’s rookie pilots.

“The Indian air force has an urgent requirement for 181 basic trainers ... and under the proposed deal 75 PC-7s will be acquired in fly-away condition, and the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. [HAL] will license-build an additional 106 PC-7s,” a senior defense ministry official says.

The agreement, which is likely to be worth $700 million, is expected to be signed soon, the official says. Deliveries are expected to begin by mid-2013.

Pilatus will replace the 1988-vintage HPT-32 single-piston-engine trainers, which were grounded in 2009 following a series of crashes that claimed the lives of several pilots and trainees.

The IAF is currently training its young pilots on the Kiran Mk. II, an intermediate jet trainer.

The Pilatus aircraft was selected through a two-year competitive process involving other bidders such as Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), Grob Aircraft of Germany, EADS PZL of Poland, Hawker Beechcraft of the U.S., Alenia Aermacchi of Italy and Aerostar of Romania.

The choice was eventually narrowed down to Korean Aircraft Industries, Hawker Beechcraft and Pilatus. The Swiss aircraft manufacturer emerged as the lowest bidder in 2011. However, KAI, which had fielded the KT-1 trainer, alleged that the defense ministry selected the Swiss aircraft even though its application was incomplete and not in accordance with defense procurement procedures.

Defense Minister A. K. Antony informed parliament on May 2 that the KAI allegations were “devoid of merit.” The CCS, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, then approved the long-pending contract.

According to the pending deal, a separate contract on maintenance would be signed with HAL, which would jointly produce the aircraft.

A parliamentary panel last week noted that the IAF has just 255 trainers, instead of the 434 that had been inducted into service. Highlighting the “critical deficiency” of aircraft for the young IAF pilots, the panel also noted that the shortfall has impacted their flying skills.

“The critical deficiency of trainer aircraft and simulators is resulting in inadequate training of fighter pilots, leading to loss of life, which is a great loss to the families and the country as a whole,” the panel declared.

The defense minister also says that to enhance the pilots’ flying skills, the IAF will buy more simulators for the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT).

“The Indian air force has already procured four simulators for Hawk Advanced Jet aircraft. Four more have been contracted. Further, eight simulators of Intermediate Jet Trainer [IJT] aircraft have also been contracted for,” Antony says.

The IAF  has a fleet of Hawks to provide Stage 3 flight training before the pilots move on to supersonic combat jets such as the MiG-21.

A senior IAF official tells Aviation Week that “advanced simulators are the need of the hour, as their use will drastically bring down the flying and fuel costs and, most importantly, reduce the loss of life and equipment.”