An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 17 December 2002

Another year has come to pass without the AJT for the IAF and Navy being ordered. No wonder it has now come to be called the 'Annual Joke Trainer'. The Advanced Jet Trainer deal is the subject of conversation in most Service and diplomatic functions and many views are offered on why the deal with BAe for the Hawk-100, which completed PNC stage with an Air Marshal in the chair had come to naught. 

The Defence Minister had said some months ago that it was only awaiting Cabinet Clearance and then we saw some cold feet. There was no official statement on the reason but the RM said new bids were being considered. Since the deal is big, one does know that national and local lobbies operate in every country. Lobbies try to consummate such big deals and India has many examples, like the Bofors and HDW deals, which still breathe in courts. UK's BAe offer of 22 fly-away and 44 to-build at HAL is not in favour for the time being for some reasons, and suddenly after budgeting for the AJT, it was reported in the media the price was too high. Reports allude to cheaper Czech L-159 with the Honeywell US F-154 engine being a sudden favourite with some, and Putin could have put the screws that Russia's MIG AT with French Engine, or the YAK 30 chosen by the Russian Air Force should be considered.

These are speculations by IDC and so we share a professional analysis from an Ex IAF pilot J Thomas who is now an analyst and in the aviation industry. We value his opinion and the letters received with his opinion are also tabled. These need to be to be viewed as they bare some unclassified old correspondence of not so long ago which discuss the AJT at policy level. We join in asking a simple question –– why was the ambitious LCA project, which no developing nation or a large Western nation except USA and Russia, had attempted alone, taken up for design and manufacture, but never the AJT which was much simpler. We understand that HAL had just cleared the design for an IJT (Intermediate Jet Trainer), with the Lazarac French engine for the IAF and claim that it could fly by next year.

Please send us your inputs and do enlighten us if you have better analysis or data on the AJT. Such healthy debate can only assist the defence preparedness of our country, especially as the IAF has lost so many young pilots and one of the reasons attributed is the lack of an AJT to transit from Kirans to the MiGs.

Quote on AJT from J Thomas as received:

“I came to know that the Advanced Jet Trainer [AJT] project was the subject of yet another tussle. Air Headquarters has proposed that the Czech L-159B be considered. It is considerably cheaper than the Hawk. However, the Defence Ministry is in favour of the BAe Hawk, provided the price can be negotiated downwards. Of course, there are powerful lobbies on both sides.

Unfortunately, both lobbies ignore the national interest. It is utterly absurd that we are trying to develop the Light Combat Aircraft [LCA] with specifications well beyond the capability of the Indian aerospace industry. And then we want to import the AJT which is well within our capability! The only result is that we end up importing both the AJT and the LCA.

As far as the LCA is concerned, readers should note that it is far inferior to the Mirage 2000, which entered service with IAF twenty years ago. The LCA will cost twice as much as the Mirage 2000 and the forex cost will be more than the total cost of the Mirage 2000. And there is hardly anything indigenous about it –– not even the paint. So the LCA fails on all counts –– no cost savings, no forex saving, no development of indigenous industry, no indigenous competence, no performance improvement.

That aside, the biggest loss from the LCA project is that it has been used as an excuse not to develop the AJT, which is well within our capability. IAF has projected an initial buy of 66 aircraft. However, there are further requirements including those of the Indian Navy and for use in the strike role in certain situations. The total requirement will be about 400 aircraft. At $10 million each, that comes to $4 billion. It is surprising that HAL has not pushed aggressively for this business and is instead content with license manufacture.

Herewith I send some correspondence on the subject. In 1993–94, I was assisting Mr Sudhir Sawant, MP with his parliamentary work and I did my best to promote our aviation industry.

Our media generally assigns young, inexperienced journalists to cover the aviation scene. That is another story.

[Shri PV Narasimha Rao was then holding the Defence portfolio himself. He was well disposed to Shri Sudhir Sawant]

From Major Sudhir Sawant, Member of Parliament [Lok Sabha]

To Shri PV Narasimha Rao, Hon'ble Prime Minister of India

3rd August 1993

Dear Shri Narasimha Raoji,

Further to my letter of 14th May 1993 regarding the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and other aviation projects.

Recent press reports suggest that there is a proposal to import as many as 66 Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT) at a cost of about Rs 4,000 crores in foreign exchange.

As far back as September 1964, M/s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd had designed and flown the Kiran basic jet trainer. The Kiran has since been in quantity production and has given good service in the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy. The Kiran project has indeed been a successful project.

Our aviation industry has made progress during the past 29 years and it is well within our capability to design and develop an Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT). Undertaking an indigenous AJT project would do more to develop our aerospace industry than the LCA project.

Since the Air Force's requirement for an AJT is urgent, it is suggested that the first batch of about 10 to 15 aircraft may be imported. Subsequent requirements may be met by indigenous development.

With regards,

Yours sincerely

(Sudhir Sawant)

[The reply came from Shri Mallikarjun, MoS for Defence]

DO No 1089-S/RRM/93


Minister of State for Defence, India

September 13, 1993

Dear Shri Sudhir Sawant Ji,

Kindly refer to your letter dated 3.8.93 addressed to the Prime Minister regarding the AJT project.

2. Indigenous design and development of an AJT by HAL was considered. However, due to pre-occupation with the LCA and ALH, the HAL was unable to take on this additional task in the time frame required by the Air Force. The Kiran MK-II was also evaluated and it did not meet the Air Staff Requirements (ASRs) of the IAF. It was only after considering the two options that decision to explore the world market was undertaken.

3. The proposals from the two shortlisted vendors have been invited, which includes, inter alia, an option for (under three options i.e. outright purchase of flyaway aircraft, assembly from (CKD) Completely Knocked Down Kits and licensed manufacture from raw material). The eventual idea is to undertake the manufacture of the AJT within India. Hence, irrespective of which aircraft is selected for purchase/license manufacture, the indigenous aerospace industry would ultimately be undertaking the production.

With regards,

Yours sincerely,


[We rebutted the arguments and wrote again]

From Maj Sudhir Sawant, MP

To Shri Mallikarjun, Hon'ble Minister of State for Defence, Govt of India


Dear Shri Mallikarjunji,

Thank you for your letter No.1089-S/RRM/93 of 13 Sep 93

2. The current requirement of AJT for Air Force is genuine and urgent. However, we should keep in mind that the IAF will require an AJT for the foreseeable future. This applies even 50 years from now. Within the next 20 - 30 years, the IAF will need at least 200 - 300 AJT aircraft. The current buy is therefore only a fraction of the total requirement.

3. It is true that at one time HAL was pre-occupied with the LCA and ALH. However, the bulk of the design work for ALH has been completed. As for the LCA, its projected performance is inferior to that of the Mirage 2000 and Mig-29 and its unit cost will be several times higher. Hence, it is not a serious or viable project.

4. With the present economic reforms and reduction in budgetary support to PSUs, HAL has taken some initiatives towards better utilisation of its resources. In these changed circumstances I feel that HAL would be willing to undertake design, development and manufacture of an AJT which we need for the next several decades.

5. With regard to para 3 of your letter what I had suggested is a fourth alternative. We should buy in flyaway condition something like 10–15 aircraft to meet the urgent needs of the IAF. The subsequent requirement of the IAF and the Indian Navy should be met through indigenous design and development.

6. License manufacture of the AJT only involves technology of the 1960s. This is already available with HAL and would only be a retrograde step.

7. In view of the importance and urgency of the subject I request that a discussion be arranged on the subject. From my side I shall bring one or two aviation experts who would analyse the subject and offer suggestions.

With kind regards,

Yours sincerely,


When faced with arguments they cannot counter, our bureaucracy stall the issue by not answering. Shri Mallikarjun went along.

Meanwhile I wrote to RN Sharma, then Chairman, HAL who was a colleague and a friend. I had earlier discussed the matter with him. His response was that HAL was quite willing to develop an AJT "but Air Force has not asked us." It may be noted that he had publicly stated that HAL was operating only at 10% capacity.

07 Oct 93

Dear Wg Cdr Sharma,

Ref our earlier discussion on the AJT project. We wrote to Hon'ble PM suggesting that, while the first batch of 10–15 aircraft may be purchased from abroad to meet the IAF's urgent requirements, subsequent aircraft should be designed, developed and manufactured by HAL.

2. Reply from Hon'ble RRM is enclosed herewith. You will see that Govt. is under the impression that HAL is unable to take on the task.

3. Copy of our further letter to Hon'ble RRM is enclosed. We are confident that, under your able guidance, HAL can and will take on the task of developing an AJT. We feel that the AJT would be a viable project and will give a boost to the Indian aviation industry.

We look forward to your views.

With regards and best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Thomas

Mr Sudhir Sawant also wrote to Chairman, HAL

Oct 93

Dear Wing Commander Sharma,

I am happy to learn that Hindustan Aeronautics is likely to take up the production of civil passenger aircraft. You will be doing yeomen service to the nation.

I wish you all success in the new venture. Please feel free to utilize my services in promotion of projects at your end.

Yours sincerely,


Chairman HAL did not reply to both letters.

Earlier this year I visited DEFEXPO in Delhi when the current Chairman HAL happened to be present at the HAL stall. He was kind enough to discuss the AJT with me. I reiterated the arguments given above and said that the AJT project would be immensely profitable for HAL and keep them going for many years. He agreed with me and revealed that HAL was, on their own initiative, developing an AJT and that he wanted to publicise it only after the prototype was ready. He gave a target date of December 2002. Subsequently I came to know that he was actually referring to the HJT-36, which is being termed an Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT).


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