Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd resumed flight tests
of the HJT-36 Sitara twin-seat aircraft. Testing had been put on hold for three years after the aircraft encountered problems on the spin test flights in 2016. HAL developed the Sitara for the Intermediate Jet Trainer program, which aims to produce a direct replacement for the Indian Air Force Kiran
. The production of the Kiran ended in 1989. HAL received a 1999 contract to develop the HJT-36 Sitara as an intermediate trainer
successor, but the firm has missed its 2007 in-service date very badly, and a number of crashes have raised concerns. The aircraft that flew recently features a repositioned vertical fin and other design changes. It is possible that, if the new configuration proves up to customer expectations, the Indian Air Force may buy 73 serial examples. Working out remedies to improve spin characteristics for an otherwise promising and mature design required extensive wind testing on scale models. During the past three years, HAL also addressed issues of excessive airframe weight, while its program partners in Russia had more time to improve the engine that powers the HJT-36.
India’s stalled defense procurements have become an international joke, but they’re not funny to front-line participants. The country’s attempts to buy simple artillery pieces have become infamous, but their current problem with trainer aircraft is arguably a more significant wound.
You can’t produce pilots properly without appropriate training, but the IAF’s fleet of 114 locally-designed HPT-32 Deepak basic trainers has been grounded since August 2009, because they aren’t seen as reliable enough or safe enough to fly. Since then, equally aged HJT-16 Kiran jets are being used for both Stage-I and Stage-II fighter training. That yawning gap has added urgency to a replacement buy, but progress has been predictably slow. With its high-end Hawk AJT jet trainer deals behind them after 20+ years of effort, can the IAF take the next step, and plug the hole in the middle of its training? In May 2012, it did.