IAF keen on US Scorpion aircraft offer

The IAF badly needs an IJT due to delays by HAL, which has been working on an IJT since 1997.

IAF is in the process of modernising and expanding its inventory to keep up with the changing geo-political scenario and emerging threat perception, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said.

After asking state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) to stop work on the intermediate jet trainers (IJT), the Indian Air Force (IAF) is now keen on the US offer of Textron’s AirLand Scorpion light-attack and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft.

The IAF badly needs an IJT due to delays by HAL, which has been working on an IJT since 1997. Senior IAF officials believe that the twin-seat platform of  the Textron’s ISR aircraft can also be used as an intermediate jet trainer.

Sources have indicated during the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US from September 22 to 28, besides a likely visit to the Boeing headquarters, military trade between the two countries will be high on the agenda, including the ISR aircraft, 22 Boeing AH-64E Apache and 15 Boeing CH-47F Chinook helicopters, armoured vehicles and other platforms.

According to officials, when Modi meets with US President Barack Obama on September 28 for bilateral discussions, the two leaders will also review progress in the four ‘pathfinder’ technologies that the US had agreed to transfer to India under the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). These include the know-how to co-develop and jointly manufacture AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven battlefield unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and roll-on/roll-off ISR modules for the IAF’s 11 Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 transport aircraft.

The two technical working groups set up earlier in 2015 to jointly develop aircraft engines and electromagnetic aircraft launch systems (EMALS) for aircraft carriers will be on the table for reviewing the progress.

Under the timeline indicated by HAL earlier, the indigenous IJTs were to be inducted in the IAF this year. However, a lot of tests of the machine are still not done and issues related to the specifications given by the customer have not been met.

The IJT is aimed at providing high-speed training for IAF pilots entering the second stage of training. Fresh cadets begin flight training in a basic trainer aircraft (BTA) and then on an IJT before moving on to an advanced jet trainer (AJT) to finally learn the art of combat flying.

When US defence secretary Ashton Carter visited India earlier this year, the two sides inked a 10-year India-US Defence Framework Agreement and fast-tracked the DTTI, under which the two countries will co-develop and co-produce military equipment in India.

It was during this visit in June that the US offered the Textron AirLand Scorpion aircraft. It is estimated that Textron’s  Scorpion would cost less than $20 million to procure and around $3,000 per hour to operate. The US company has set a sales target of 2,000 platforms to international operators over the coming years.

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