HAL has initiated a critical phase of the intermediate jet trainer (IJT) programme by calling for bids to weaponise the aircraft. After hurdles delayed the flight test programme last year, the Indian intermediate jet trainer HJT-36 Sitara is on course to obtain initial operational clearance (IOC) in June. Crucial spin recovery tests — mandatory for the IOC checklist — are scheduled to begin in the next two weeks. In the meantime, since the Sitara will be used for primary weapon training of pilots in gunnery, rocketry, bombing and weapon aiming, HAL has now invited bids to give the platform a 12.7-mm gun pod (with 200 round capacity) suitable for its in-board wing stations.
The programme team intends to deliver a fully operational platform to the IAF in 2013. The IAF has asked for over 70 aircraft, but is almost certain to finally order nearly three times that number. The aircraft will be flown by the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) once ready. The HJT-36 will also feature prominently on HAL’s export catalogue, possibly as a light attack aircraft as well. Am working on a retrospective of the Sitara programme, with lots of pictures. That should be done in the next week or so.