THE HAWKS ARE ON HOLD FOR NOW
by Suman Sharma
THE GOVERNMENT has put on hold the delivery of 14 British-built Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) Hawk Mk- 132 after one of the trainer aircraft crashed last month.
This is a major setback to the £1.1 billion (Rs 8,800 crore) AJT deal for 66 Hawk AJTs signed by the NDA government in 2004. Twenty- four of these were be bought off the shelf, 42 were to be made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), while the rest would have come directly from the UK.
Air Officer Maintenance (AOM), Air Marshal KM Rama Sundara had told the ministry, following a visit to the BAE Systems in UK to inspect the aircraft, that most of the parts used in the AJT were “obsolete” or faulty. This he did before the crash took place and the ministry was deliberating on the “loopholes”.
Now the defence ministry wants to take up the matter with the British government.
According to the MoU signed between New Delhi and the UK for the Hawk contract, “the Indian government can question the manufacturing company and later take up the matter with the UK government for trouble- free supply and maintenance of spares in equipment”.
The 10 aircraft that have been delivered so far, one of which met with the accident on April 29 at the IAF base in Bidar, were reportedly fitted with old spare parts. Sundara, in his report, said there were serious deficiencies in the spares as well as in some of the assemblies.
Sundara, the senior- most officer in Air HQ responsible for maintenance management of all IAF weapon systems and equipment, has pointed out over a dozen flaws in the aircraft spares to the defence minister AK Antony. The minister, on his part, has halted the delivery of the remaining aircraft.
The AJT Hawks, which were inducted in the IAF on February 23, remained on the ground till the first week of March. Finally, when they took off IAF officials discovered a slew of snags.
HAL, which has already built the first of the remaining 42 Hawks to be produced under licence, has also postponed its induction ceremony after the crash.
Former Air chief S Krishnaswamy was not in favour of grounding the whole fleet for one crash. “For more than 20 years we kept asking for a trainer since the Mig crashes were increasing. I don’t think there is any need to ground the fleet or stop deliveries of the remaining aircraft. We need to find out the reason behind the crash. Is it pilot error or technical failure? The aircraft was flown by an experienced instructor and not a cadet. It’s important to know the problem and take it up with the company.”
Another former Air Chief, SK Kaul, has a different take. “ If the government decides to ground the fleet or to stop deliveries, it is to ensure that the deficiencies are completely removed,” he said.