The (IAF) has decided to “urgently” buy 106 PC-7 Mk. 2 Basic Trainer Aircraft (BTA) from , pulling the plug yet again on state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited ( ), which is also making an aircraft for training junior pilots.
The BTAs will be acquired from the Swiss company under the “Buy & Make (Indian)” category, in accordance with India’s defense procurement policy.
India is already taking delivery of PC-7 Mk. 2 aircraft from Pilatus under a contract for 75 such aircraft signed in 2012.
“The aircraft and associated equipment in this new procurement are required to be supplied in the same configuration/specifications and scale as was contracted with Pilatus earlier,” an IAF official tells Aviation Week.
Under the “Buy & Make (Indian)” category, Pilatus will have to form a joint venture or establish a production arrangement with an Indian company to execute the contract.
“The Indian government desires a local vendor or company to form a joint venture or establish a production arrangement with Pilatus to “supply a certain number of PC-7 Mk. 2 aircraft in flyaway condition as the ‘buy’ portion, followed by licensed production/indigenous manufacture in India under the ‘make’ portion,” the official says.
“The trainers and associated equipment are required to be inducted urgently into the IAF,” he says. There is a need for 181 BTAs for the Stage I flying training for the IAF.
A Request for Information (RFI) calls for delivery of aircraft and equipment to begin by 2015-16, with all 106 PC-7 Mk. 2’s to be delivered by 2020-21.
The last date for receipt of responses for the RFI is April 21, following which an RFP will be issued to all the short-listed vendors.
Since the aircraft is to be license-produced in India, it must have a minimum of 50% indigenous content on a cost basis (for a specified list of items). A minimum of 30% indigenous Indian content for applicable items also is required. However, no minimum indigenous content is needed for the “buy” portion of the contract.
The decision to buy BTA from Pilatus could severely affect HAL’s plans for its Hindustan Turbo Trainer 40 (HTT-40). The IAF and HAL have been debating the future of the turbo trainer for over two years now, but a decision on any forward movement for the project came to the fore when former IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne wrote to Defense Minister A.K. Antony urging a foreclosure of the HTT-40 program to enable the import of 106 more PC-7 Mk. 2 trainers.
“To meet the immediate flying training requirements of the IAF, the ‘option clause’ should be exercised to procure 38 PC-7 Mk. 2 from M/s Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., as directed by the Ministry of Defense on 29 September, 2009. The subsequent requirement of 68 BTA could be met through repeat procurement,” the then-IAF chief said in his letter to the defense minister in 2013.
The ministry of defense had cleared an IAF request in 2009 to buy 181 BTAs, 75 of which would be procured from an international vendor with the remaining to be designed and developed by HAL. India signed a deal in May 2012 worth about $650 million for 75 Pilatus aircraft. So far, the Swiss company has delivered about 20 aircraft and the IAF, which has suffered from a severe shortage of modern trainers, has commenced training with the PC-7 Mk. 2.
The state-owned airframer had said that development of the HTT-40 was expected to be complete next year. Deliveries were expected to commence from 2017, with all 106 trainers being delivered by 2024, according to HAL estimates.
However, the inordinate delays and cost overruns in projects ranging from the ongoing intermediate jet trainer to the light combat helicopter and light utility helicopter programs by the state-run defense unit have been frustrating the IAF.
Last month, in yet another snub for HAL, the IAF decided not to buy the long-delayed HJT-36 Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT) and floated a tender to buy IJTs from abroad.
Pilatus PC-7s also have replaced HAL-built HPT-32 Deepak primary trainers, which were grounded in 2009 following a spate of crashes and over 100 incidents of engine failures.
The PC-7 Mk. 2 aircraft has almost nothing in common with the PC-7. The PC-7 Mk. 2, introduced in 1994, is a derivative of the PC-9 aircraft (not a further development of the PC-7) and has an exceptional standard of equipment, performance and cost-effectiveness in this class of training aircraft.
“Offering a reliable and economic training platform, the docile behavior of the PC-7 Mk. 2 in the hands of a beginner provides a confidence-building environment for inexperienced cadets. With its highly cost-efficient PT6A-25C engine, it provides the lowest engine operating costs of all turboprop trainer aircraft,” says the deputy CEO of Pilatus Aircraft, Jim Roche.
The PC-7 Mk. 2’s use of airframe and avionics systems common with the PC-9 M—both are designed as “modular” trainers—enables owners and operators to profit from the benefits of a combined infrastructure, as they share more than 85% commonality in systems and components (same airframe, avionics, escape system, etc.), Roche tells Aviation Week.