The thing is, since then, makers of the Hawk AJT, BAe Systems have had their controversial dealings in the Middle East dragged squarely into public focus. Now, anyone will tell you that no defence deal is completely clean, not even follow-on upgrades or warranty extension contracts. But the Hawk deal almost certainly involved pay-offs of a pretty darn high caliber. The deal was over-priced, and the Indian government was coerced into buying a trainer that was in the final arc of its variant cycle — a new export version of the Hawk was unveiled just months after the deal with India was signed, making us look a trifle idiotic in the end.
The IAF will likely take journalists to Bidar to watch the Hawks fly in, and make a show of it. The fact is, there’s very little to be proud of (just like there’s precious little to be proud of on our Republic Days in recent times as we hail in patriotic zeal the Il-78 refuelling two Sukhoi-30s, while a T-90 tank and Heron UAV rumble by on Rajpath below).
So while we celebrate the arrival of the Hawks at Bidar this month, let’s keep a few things in perspective, for what they’re worth. First, the positives – the Hawks will be a long-overdue invaluable lead-in platform for pilots, making redundant the Tezpur op-flight training school (which will soon be an MKI base), and make an unqualifiably large contribution to confidence and safety. On the downside – and here’s what we should be reflecting on even more – first, the Hawk isn’t Indian and we’re buying at a huge cost. Second, the Hawk contributes #$%-all to Indian industry, despite all the bullsh!t that HAL periodically throws at you about how proud they are to be in a position to hammer together 42 Hawks and paint them Tippy grey for their “valued customer”. Third, the acquisition contributes nothing to HAL’s own AJT programme – obviously not – especially since the indigenous AJT, whenever that comes, will likely be a twin tandem-engined IJT Sitara, but they’ll need to get IJT up and fully op cleared soon for any meaningful plan in that direction. Fourth, this is one deal that even government circles are sure involved the payment of commissions, though twenty years gave all parties concerned enough gritty experience to know how to sidestep the known landmines at South Block.
Mourn the Hawk? Certainly not. These are fine aircraft that will make an untold difference to flying, flight safety and flight training. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop to think.