Stuck in mud: Basic trainer controversy is similar to chopper deal

As the complaint against foul play in the basic trainer deal currently under the evaluation of Ministry of Defence is getting into a mired game, there are hectic efforts to clear the deal as quickly as possible to avoid delay in the whole process.

But as it has been seen in some cases, it may affect the whole deal in the long run if one of the contenders decides to seek legal recourse. Once embroiled in legal battle, the deal will get stuck to infinity.  

In that case, the rookie pilots of the IAF will have to wait for a longer period for a new basic trainer after the grounding of the entire 125 strong HPT-32 Deepak fleet in July 2009.

After a series of 17 crashes, the IAF decided to acquire new basic trainer and an international bid was floated for which the Swiss made Pilatus PC-7 emerged as the L-1 contender.

The other contenders were the American Hawker Beechcraft TC-6 Texas-II, South Korean company Korean Aerospace KT-1, EADS PZL-130, Polish Orlik TC- II and German Grob 120 TP.

The flight trials consisted of flight characteristics, fuel consumption, handling qualities, duration of sorties, ease of handling and operations and the instruments in the cockpit.

However, the decision to go ahead with the L-1 nominee the Swiss made Pilatus PC-7 was suspended after the receipt of complaints from other contender, the Korean Aerospace.

The Korean company was placed second in the short list for the basic trainer. The trials were conducted in Jamnagar airbase in Gujarat. The procurement process started in the first quarter of this year and the decision was expected by the end of July but the allegation has led to the unnecessary delays.

Initially the IAF wanted to acquire 75 aircrafts directly from the company and asked HAL to manufacture 106 more under joint venture arrangement.

According to the original RFP, the company winning the bid will have to deliver the first 12 aircrafts within two months of the aircraft. The IAF wants the selected aircraft in its fleet for the next 30 years.

It has specified that the aircraft should have been certified very recently. A total of 181 basic trainers are planned to be inducted in the IAF fleet.


This is not for the first time that the MoD had to stall the acquisition process, after selecting an aircraft as L-1. This happened four years ago for the Light Utility Helicopter deals, after the allegations of irregularities and corruption.

The deal was almost finalized for the Eurocopter, but complaints from the US company led to the cancellations of the acquisition process and has till now not been finalized.

IAF officials fear that the acquisition process of the basic trainer may meet the same fate. This latest case has once again confirmed that irregularities in Indian defence deals have become a normal trend.

This also confirms that in spite of so many promises by Defence Minister A K Antony regarding transparency in all the defence transactions, the defence and services officials are not ready to follow the rules of the game.

If the representation by the rival Korean company is found to be true then a serious rethinking in the defence acquisition process must be done.

The MoD however has received strong representation from the Swiss company requesting to go ahead with the negotiation process.

The former Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar,who is now Central Vigilance Commissioner, confirmed that the MoD is examining the representations from other companies also including the Swiss company.

The Korean company has alleged that issues such as transfer of technology have not been taken into account into the bidding price.

The South Korean firm urged the MoD to reexamine the commercial documents submitted by the Swiss firm Pilatus. It was alleged that the Swiss firm’s bid was incomplete and inconsistent.

Since this would be almost one billion dollar deal, the competing companies do not want to loose out. Hence, hectic lobbying with the MoD is on and the representatives of the competing companies are making their best efforts to grab the opportunity.

This has resulted in the slowing down of the procurement process. The Korean company had leveled serious allegations about discrepancies in the procurement process.

According to sources, the Korean company had complained about the validity of the commercial documents submitted by the Swiss company. The commercial bids for the IAF basic trainer was opened in May this year, when the defence officials found the Swiss company with the lowest offer for providing 75 basic trainers.

According to Defence Ministry officials, the matter is being looked into and in case of any discrepancies, action will be taken according to the laid down procedures in the Defence Procurement Procedure.

The MoD officials contend that a thorough scrutiny will be conducted, since the IAF authorities are concerned over the delay in the acquisition process.

In the absence of current fleet of HPT-32 basic trainers the IAF cadets were trained on the much complex Kiran aircraft, which are being used in the Surya Kiran aerobatics flying team.

In fact, the Kiran trainers are meant for the second level training. The cadets need to be more gently initiated into slower and safer propeller driven aircraft.

Meanwhile, according to the IAF officials, the HPT-32 aircrafts are being revived for training purposes and most likely they will be in service again in the next six months.

According to MoD sources, new safety features are to be added in the HPT-32s, called the Ballistic Recovery System, which has been developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

These new safety features will be fitted in the entire fleet of the grounded aircrafts, which will help in easier descending of the aircraft with the help of a large parachute that can be opened in case the engine fails.

However, this can only be a stop gap measure. The MoD will have to expedite the acquisition process of the basic trainers and make available these planes to the young pilots as soon as possible.