The lack of basic trainer aircraft and the grounding of fighters like Mirage-2000 have taken a heavy toll on the IAF. The delay in the procurement of a new trainer aircraft and the crashes of IAF planes is leading to depletion in the number of pilots in the IAF. The number of pilots in the IAF has shrunk from the sanctioned strength due to lack of a basic trainer aircraft and other catastrophes.
While the HPT-32 Deepak basic trainer has been grounded since mid-2009, the crash of two Mirage -2000 fighter planes in February and March has forced the IAF to stall all routine training flying of the fighter plane.
Defence Minister AK Antony has indicated in the Parliament that the flying of the Mirage-2000 will commence in stages only after all the checks are completed. This is a precautionary measure following the accidents of Mirage-2000 aircraft on February 24 and March 5, he added.
Based on the results of the initial investigations of the accidents, certain checks have been instituted by the IAF. The Court of Inquiry is investigating each IAF aircraft accident to determine the cause of accident and evade their recurrence in future. Upgradation of aircraft fleet, including Mirage-2000 aircraft, is reviewed from time to time keeping in view several factors including IAF’s operational requirements.
Owing to these constant mishaps and lack of new trainers, the IAF is currently short of roughly 350 pilots. According to sources, the actual strength of pilots in January this year is about 3450 against the sanctioned strength of 3783. The shortfall can only be covered up when the IAF inducts new basic trainer aircraft into the fleet. However, the Defence ministry (MoD) has blocked the purchase of 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II basic trainers for almost a year since the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) alleged that Swiss company Pilatus had violated procedural norms.
While Swiss firm Pilatus emerged the lowest bidder in the evaluation process last year for the basic trainer aircraft, KAI could get the deal once Pilatus is disqualified. The South Korean has also pointed out that its trainer KT-1 is more contemporary than the Pilatus. Besides, KAI has offered to work with state-run HAL in developing the HTT-40, the Indian-built basic trainer, so that there is commonality between the two basic trainers that the IAF flies.
While the South Korean firm’s allegation is being probed, it is the IAF which is suffering the ill effects due to delay in the procurement of a trainer aircraft. As per the report submitted last month by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the IAF has been criticized for training mostly with outdated and ageing aircraft. In addition, the rookie pilots are now doing just 25 hours of basic training, as against 150 hours that are considered essential.
While Defence Ministry has also approved procurement of 75 modern basic trainers from the global market, state-run HAL will also develop and build 106 basic trainers called Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40). Regarding simulator training, the IAF has simulators for Kiran Mkl/IA, Hawk Mk-32, An-32 and Dornier aircraft. All these simulators are serviceable and more simulators are being procured along with new induction of aircraft like the Basic Trainer Aircraft and Intermediate Jet Trainer aircraft.