Basic trainer aircraft: The facts
The debate on whether the basic trainer aircraft (BTA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF) should be indigenously developed or procured from abroad, hit a new high after a report in the media alleging that the IAF was trying to scuttle the development of the BTA by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The article also pitted the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the IAF and HAL against each other. There is therefore a need to put the issues in correct perspective.
Urgent Requirement of Basic Trainer
The IAF had initially taken up a case for procurement of 181 BTA as ‘Make, by HAL’. draft preliminary staff qualitative requirements (PSQRs) were provided to HAL in February 2008. After discussions between the IAF and HAL, the PSQRs were mutually agreed upon and issued in March 2009. A fatal accident of HPT-32 in May 2009 resulted in grounding of the HPT-32 fleet in July that year. This somewhat sudden development created an unacceptable void in basic flying training that compelled the IAF to propose procurement of 75 BTA urgently from the global market. The balance of 106 BTA were to be indigenously designed, developed and produced by HAL as the Indian aerospace major was not inclined to license-manufacture the aircraft 75 of which were to be procured from a selected foreign vendor.
The Procurement Process
As per the defence procurement procedure (DPP) in vogue, the Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQRs) were prepared and ratified by the Service Equipment Policy Committee (SEPC) in October 2009. Simultaneously the PSQRs issued to HAL earlier in March 2009 were also revised to align with the ASQR for BTA (Buy) and were reissued to HAL by December 2009. HAL submitted its first draft project report (DPR) in September 2010 based on the amended PSQRs. Thus, as on date, PSQRs and ASQRs are similar, the major difference being that PSQRs include both ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ parameters whereas ASQRs include only ‘essential’ parameters. PSQRs being preliminary are provisional and subject to review/ change during the development process. The desirable parameters are based on futuristic/emerging technologies whereas the essential parameters are to be of proven state-of-the-art technology available in India as also in the world market. The ASQRs cannot be reviewed once the request for proposal (RFP) is issued. The ASQRs are based on inputs obtained through request for information (RFI) so as to ensure a multi-vendor situation. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) then accorded acceptance of necessity (AON) for HAL in February 2010 to go ahead with the indigenous design and development of 106 BTA.
The RFP for BTA (Buy) was issued to 12 vendors of which nine responded, two vendors were disqualified due to non-submission of Integrity Pact and incomplete proposals. Of the seven vendors
remaining in the race, five cleared the technical evaluation committee (TEC) and three cleared the field evaluation trials (FET) after meeting with all ASQRs. This indicates that the ASQRs were broadbased and were not formulated to favour any specific vendor or product. The RFP for BTA received maximum response generating the largest competition in aircraft procurement in recent history. Pilatus of Switzerland emerged as the lowest bidder (L1) out of the three at contract negotiation stage.
Staff Qualitative Requirements
Air HQ had not visualised the requirement of a zero-zero ejection seat while drafting PSQRs. However, HAL proposed to provide such an ejection seat and hence this was included in the PSQRs issued for the first time. When the ASQRs for the BTA (Buy) were being formulated, it was evident from the response to RFI that only two aircraft were available in the world market with a zero-zero ejection seat. This would have narrowed the competition to only two vendors. Further, a zero-zero ejection seat is not an essential requirement for a basic trainer class of aircraft, which has very low take-off/landing speeds and distances. Accordingly, the ASQR merely stated, “The aircraft should be fitted with an ejection seat.” This ensured that more than seven vendors remained in the competition. The current PSQRs also stipulate that the aircraft should be fitted with an ejection seat.
Pressurisation of the cockpit for BTA, which has a service ceiling of six km, was never an IAF requirement. In their preliminary project report (PPR) on HTT-40 in January 2008, HAL had stated that “The option of cabin pressurisation will also be looked into during the detailed design stage”. Accordingly, ‘cockpit pressurisation’ was included as a desirable parameter in the earlier PSQRs. Even the HTT-40 under the BTA (Make) does not have ‘Cockpit Pressurisation’. The detailed project report (DPR) on HTT-40 submitted by HAL in September 2010 and approved by DG (Acquisition), did not include ‘cockpit pressurisation’..
With regard to the external vision, both the ASQR and current PSQR have identical criteria. In the earlier PSQRs, the seating configuration was defined as tandem arrangement and therefore, it included the requirement for external vision from rear cockpit of minus eight degrees. From the response to request for information (RFI) it emerged that the world market had BTA with both ‘tandem’ and ‘side-by-side’ seating. Accordingly, the ASQRs stipulated that “the external vision requirement should be in accordance with the relevant specification. Additionally, for a tandem seating design, the instructor’s cockpit in the rear should be sufficiently raised to allow safe flight instruction both by day and night.” The rear cockpit of the PC-7 Mk II, is sufficiently raised to provide a minus 10 degrees vision over the aircraft nose. Both ASQRs and the current PSQRs specify that “The aircraft should have a glide ratio better than 10:1”. The glide ratio of the PC-7 Mk II is in excess of 12:1. This means that while gliding with engine failed, the aircraft will traverse two nm on the ground for every 1000 feet of descent.
Both ASQRs and the current PSQRs do not specify any requirement for in-flight simulation. This requirement could be met with using the fixed base full mission simulator which was also being acquired and hence this requirement of a simulation panel on the aircraft was omitted as a considered decision while finalising ASQRs and the current PSQRs. Both the ASQRs and current PSQRs stipulate “the takeoff distance required should be less than 1000 m”. The takeoff distance of the PC-7 Mk II is 259 metres at sea level. Similarly, the requirement of maximum speed specified is 450 kmph and that of the PC-7 Mk II is 555 kmph.
As per the Project Report submitted by HAL in May 2013, the projected unit cost of the HTT-40 was at 2011 price level and did not include a number of expenses such as costs of design and development, which IAF will need to pay upfront. After amortising these costs over 106 aircraft and applying the government approved escalation rates, the ‘real’ unit cost of the HTT-40 for the actual delivery period would be ` 59.31 crore in 2018 and ` 64.77 crore in 2020. As against this, the contracted unit cost of the PC-7 Mk II is 6.09 million Swiss Francs (`40.27 crore). This price of the PC-7 Mk Il is frozen under the ‘Option Clause’ for deliveries up to 2017. Hence, even at 2011price level, the HTT-40 is substantially more expensive than PC-7 Mk II. Unlike the HAL HTT-40, deliveries of all 75 PC-7 Mk II would be completed by 2015 and if the Option Clause is exercised, 38 more PC-7 Mk II could be delivered by 2017 at the same price. Time frame for delivery by HAL of the indigenous BTA remains uncertain.
The draft PSQRs were prepared by thy IAF based on various options and inputs provided by HAL as the OEM for BTA (Make). The ASQRs for BTA (Buy) case were ratified by SEPC on October 9, 2009, in accordance with the DPP. The SEPC included representatives of MoD, DRDO, DGAQA, HQ IDS and Air HQ. The PSQRs for BTA (Make) were amended to align with the ASQRs for BTA (Buy). With regard to life-cycle costs (LCC), Pilatus emerged as the lowest bidder on the basis of the total cost of acquisition over 10,000 flying hours or 30 years of life. The LCC has actually been estimated based on the commercial proposal submitted by the vendor and not on speculative and arbitrary assessments. The Pilatus contract also includes transfer of maintenance technology (MToT). Once achieved, all subsequent requirements for spares and servicing/ overhaul would be sourced from HAL. Even a BTA (Make) would continue to source a large number of spares from abroad as major components such as engine, propeller, ejection seat, avionics etc in the HTT-40 would be of foreign origin.
The entire procurement process is handled by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with support of Air HQ. The IAF and the MoD have followed the defence procurement procedures meticulously for both BTA (Buy) and BTA (Make) with full transparency and probity. Any insinuation of dilutions of specifications to favour a particular vendor or aircraft, is baseless and incorrect.
Union Minister of State for Defence Jitendra Singh in the cockpit of Pilatus PC-7 MK II trainer aircraft during the induction ceremony at Dundigal in Hyderabad