Amidst a fanfare, Indian Air Force operationalises Hawk trainers

February 23rd, 2008 - 7:39 pm ICT by admin  

(Lead, Changing dateline)
By Vishnu Makhijani
Bidar (Karnataka), Feb 23 (IANS) The sun shone bright and a military band played a fanfare as Defence Minister A.K. Antony inducted into service the newly acquired Hawk advanced jet trainers (AJT) of the Indian Air Force (IAF) - and announced the force would purchase 40 more aircraft over and above the 66 it has ordered. “This is a day of special significance as it fulfils a long-standing commitment of the government to provide a state-of-the-art trainer to the IAF,” Antony said at the induction ceremony at this sprawling airbase that will be home to the Hawk trainer.

Thereafter, led by Wing Commander Pankaj Jain, five aircraft took off in formations of three and two, performed a few aerial manoeuvres as the band played “Skyhawk”, a fanfare especially composed for the occasion.

The aircraft then landed and Jain smartly marched up to report to Antony on the “first successful mission of the Hawk after induction”.

The IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, and the British High Commissioner to India Richard Stagg were among those who attended the ceremony.

The induction came four months after the IAF, one of the oldest air forces in the world, celebrated its 75th anniversary. This is also the first induction of aircraft since the fourth-generation Sukhoi SU-30MKI joined the IAF fleet in 2001.

Twenty-four of the MK-132 version of the twin-seat Hawk, which can also be used in combat, are being supplied in flyaway condition by its British manufacturer BAE Systems, while state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will build the remaining 42 at Bangalore.

The first of the Hawks had arrived in November 2007 and eight aircraft have so far been received. The last of the initial batch of 66 aircraft will be delivered by 2010 and the additional 40 within two years of that.

The induction of the Hawk fulfils the IAF’s long-standing need of a trainer to take rookie pilots from basic jets like the Kiran to sophisticated fighters like the MiG-29 and the Sukhoi SU-30 MKI.

Up to now, the MiG-21 jet was performing this role but it was felt that the transition was too abrupt and an intermediate stage was required.

“Hitherto, pilots graduating on the Kiran were straightaway being sent to MiG-21 squadrons for operational training. Now, we will impart them this instruction on the Hawk,” said Group Captain Mike Fernandes, chief instructor of the Bidar air base.

“The Hawk is a fitting stepping stone. It is a time-tested trainer that has proved itself in many countries,” Fernandes told reporters here.

Over the last one year, about a dozen IAF pilots and some 80 technicians have been trained at RAF Valley in Britain on the Hawk and they, in turn, will impart further training to the IAF’s rookie pilots.

The Bidar air base, which is home to the IAF’s Suryakiran aerobatic display team, has undergone a Rs.1.20 billion refurbishment to enable it accommodate the Hawks.

This includes the lengthening of the runway to 9,000 metres with arrester hooks and safety equipment at either end as per international standards, and the construction of a new hangar, as LAO laboratories for central repair and servicing, ground support engineering, propulsion engineering, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.

The need for an AJT was first articulated by the IAF in 1982 and ever since has remained high on its agenda for procurement. The IAF felt that there existed a quantum difference in the skill and judgement levels required of a young fighter pilot as he transited to state-of-the-art fighters such as the Su-30 MKI, Mirage 2000 and MiG-29.

The Hawk-132 is a variant of the highly successful BAE Systems Hawk. It incorporates an open architecture mission computer, glass cockpit and a state of the art avionics suite including a new generation inertial navigation system with GPS (INGPS).

It is also equipped with several Indian made components such as the communication sets, the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system and the radio altimeter. The aircraft is fully combat capable and can carry air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground armament. It can also be used as a lightweight fighter.

IAF and BAE Systems signed the contract for the aircraft in 2004.

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