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..and then there were none.

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HPT-32 at Tambaram

Introduction

A Magazine on defence preparedness, weapon acquisitions, financial allocations for Armed Forces, joint ventures with global manufacturers, mislead readers into believing that India’s defence production is strong, reliable, contemporary, and robust. Exhortations of Private – Public partnerships to invest in defence related industry abound, with promises of level playing grounds and fair deals. No hints of impediments by disingenuous bureaucratic wrangles, legal inventiveness with loads of political inertia and greed. So what’s the problem, happens all over the world, why is India different? Manoeuvring the techno-commercial maze, negotiating bureaucratic- legal hassles, confronting political hazards, is a part of the game, has been for years, how can it change? Question is not should it change, but why is it not changing? India’s Armed Forces have always been getting the short end of the stick; it is time to get what we need. India’s defence production is weak, unreliable and redundant without visible remedial action. Well known to those involved in production and procurements, and more so to the Armed Forces as also the Police and Para-Military. To reiterate a cliché, a bewildered BSF cop asks,” Why do I get a rifle that stops more often than it fires”. He refers to the INSAS. This is our true state and the tragic engagement at Dantewada is evidence

The scene is no different in the military aviation arena, where we do not have a basic trainer for the IAF. Can there be any excuse for this shameful situation? A nation that boasts of an enviable technical manpower on earth, cannot give its own Air Force the capability to train pilots for defending Indian skies? The HPT-32 hurt us enough and its replacement could have been the designated HTT. For some unusual reason, the HTT was evaluated against Turbo Trainer in the class of the Tucano / Texan II, making it virtually impossible to accept. Have we forgotten the dictum that, no man should do to others that which is repugnant to himself? One friend suggested that we should have evaluated the HTT against MiG 29 if we had decided to reject it before the evaluation But that story may never see light of day even with RTI. So what do we do?

Is It Our Inability to Do It Right, or Our Proclivity to Do It Wrong?

Why do we not have a Basic Trainer at the Air Force Academy?  How do we explain this blunder to our youth, to the tax paying public who have sacrificed much for maintaining the IAF? Should we have reached this road-block? We saw it coming, and if that be so, who neglected to make enough noise for remedial action? Can all the agencies involved in providing the trainer honestly say that they did everything possible to avoid this impasse? There are people and organisations who displayed culpable careless wilful negligence. The non-availability of a trainer aircraft did not just happen, it has been brought about. Who did this? How come governmental institutions, checks & balances, auditors, Parliament committees, Defence HQs, MOD, PMO, and the all powerful print & electronic media, let this happen? What about our sole aircraft manufacturer HAL, and other aeronautical research establishments that work with HAL, where has their attention been riveted? What about NAL, which makes aeroplanes no one wants, why did they not make a trainer instead of the abdicable Saras? What’s worse, NAL now want to make another undesired bigger aeroplane. The HPT’s Lycoming engine powers many aircraft under comparable temperature, humidity, dusty conditions as existing at Dundigal Air Force Academy. Those Lycoming engines are not failing with regularity as do ours. Has this anomaly been adequately investigated? Are we doing something wrong? Is it our inability to do it right? Are we hiding something? Have we asked unbiased and non-partisan experts to study our methods? If maintenance by IAF is incorrect, who is to remedy it? What about the mixture lever? Why should it be locked at Fully Rich? Did we not fly the Harvard and adjust the mixture?

A Whole Parachute to Bring Down the HPT.

It is rumoured, hopefully it remains so, that a modification is planned to retrofit a parachute onto the HPT, and should the engine die, then that parachute would be deployed to bring it safely down? Sounds wonderful, especially for those not flying the HPT. Has enough thought been given to the psychological wallop on instructor and pupil? What in the world do instructors tell cadets about this clumsy parachute which will bring us down, but not back? And pray how does the pilot guide that parachute so that it touches down vertically without drift, twist or wobble? What are the survivability data of crew when this amazing procedure concludes? And, what are the aerobatic, spin, stall characteristics with the parachute? Will we teach our boys only circuits and landings?  Once again is it our proclivity to do it wrong? And when we do it wrong, lose people in that wrongdoing, who will carry the can? Most, who approve this horrendous modification will be unavailable for investigations. Eventually someone sufficiently inclined will conduct an enquiry and apportion blame to the inanimate parachute, its raisers, and strong winds on the Deccan. Reminds one of the abrupt change of presiding officer inquiring into the crash of the HS-748 AWACS at Arkonam. Who got blamed for that awful calamity? Surely blame was due? Who will get blamed for the equally tragic Saras crash? We want to continue flying the HPT, but knowing that the engine will die, more often than not, we slap on a parachute for a whole aircraft. Which other Air Force in this universe trains its pilots this way? Are we unwilling to do it right, determined to do it wrong, have we no solution? Before we move onto whether we could have got a trainer in time, let’s apportion blame on all those who deserve it. The readers will have a rather long list. One guilty party is the system of selecting, short-listing, tendering, negotiating, and finally procuring. So who makes the system? Get that guy, he is the bureaucrat. Punishment for bureaucrats / technocrats is rare. The Military Secretary of Indian Army gets the sack for Sukhna scam. Which technocrat / bureaucrat has been punished for the innumerable scams they created including no trainer aircraft? Voltaire preached,” Harsh retribution serves not only to punish the culprit, but also encourages others to remain virtuous”. Harshness is meted out only to military men, never to babudom. Kya baat hai?

We Have Had the Wherewithal to Get Trainers. 

India has been flush with foreign exchange for years, the HPT has been troubling us for years, and alternate trainer aircraft have been available for many years, yet we have not procured them? It is inconceivable that the Academy & IAF did not demand replacements because HPT engine failures have persistently delayed training schedules. Which trainer and at what cost is outside the purview of this story. The truth is that trainers, piston or turboprop, have been available, but the MOD has not shown the earnestness to get them. Most surely, blame in some form or another, must also reside with the IAF. If MOD can be so swift in asking Chiefs of Staff to not make remarks about certain issues, then what prevents the same MOD from making sure that the Chiefs quickly make up their minds on what they want? But after a Chief decides, the babu takes over with his political patrons, and thereby hangs the tale of delayed defence procurements. What a mess this is, and all the while we have had the financial resources, technical expertise, pilots / engineers readily available to initiate processes for inducting trainer aircraft. It was no secret that the HPT must be replaced sooner than later, whatever be the cause, yet we refuse to do it right. The Air Force Academy must continue training pilots with whatever is available, but is this the most efficient and cost effective method of building and sustaining the 4th largest air force on Earth? What image are we presenting before USA, Russia, Europe, Middle East, South East Asia, and our neighbours? What confidence do we inspire among the knowledgeable population of India? We have everything readily available to procure or manufacture a basic trainer for the IAF, but we do not do it. Is this not a clear demonstration of our proclivity to keep doing it wrong? So what do we do now?

The Designers, Manufacturers and their Controllers Must Pay For the Debacle

Change the Guard and Get a New Balloon.

In an earlier article elsewhere by the author, it was suggested that PSUs and DRDO must be made accountable for their uncontrolled blunders. General Malik, ex COAS was forced to ask his army to fight in Kargil “with whatever we have”. Many criticised him for saying so, but what did the critics expect him to say? That unless the troops get latest equipment demanded years back, we will wait, and let the enemy come further into India? The military commander does his job with what he has at the time the battle is joined. ACM Arjan Singh did not wait for new aircraft in Sep 1965, he fought with Vampires, Mysteres, Hunters and Gnats. At the end of the battle, the military commander is judged by his peers and juniors who fought for him. When will India assess the commanders of her PSUs & DRDO laboratories along with their controlling bureaucrats and political masters? Why blame only the khaki uniform for the Dantewada massacre, what about the safari suited babu and white kurta clad politician? It has been very strongly suggested by technocrats, academics, visionaries, military leaders, corporate captains, and journalists that private entrepreneurs must get a stake in Defence Industries, and only then can India hope to get her beleaguered aircraft industry moving at the pace required. HAL and its associated R&D units have failed the IAF and India again and again. One LCA & one ALH in 60 years is not enough. If the aircraft design and manufacturing conglomerate is incapable of delivering a Basic trainer, let’s find those who can. Let not egos or ‘ahankara’ decide policy. Because ahankara is a leaky balloon, forever demanding replenishment to remain high-sounding, but extremely insecure, because the tiniest prick causes sudden deflation. That is what we have been doing to this conglomerate and every prick attracts a patch to stop deflation, now the balloon has more patches than body. The industry needs a fresh breath of exhilarating helium to take it to the heights demanded by an India that needs to address her military aviation needs of 2050s. We have supported our aviation industry without justifiable returns only because it needs to mature. By any standards, 60 years is a long time to mature, but because we are more concerned and anxious about how the aviation industry is perceived, and not how it functions, we showered it with unwarranted attention and funds. This constant attention  matters because the aviation industry is uncertain of its perceived worth, if outsiders show complete disinterest in their ventures it will sink. Maybe the time has come to tell them the truth without hemming and hawing. As Michael Angelo is supposed to have told Pope Julius II while painting the Sistine Chapel,   ‘If the wine is sour, throw it out’. Is it time for the Air Force to do something similar?

Keep The Private Players Out,

That is Paramount. Even if the Air Force coerces remedial process, somebody other than the IAF has to implement that remedy, and therein lies the crunch. Because those ‘somebodies’ are the ones who must first be thrown out as sour wine causing more acidity than intoxication. Who or what group of dedicated visionaries with adequate clout can initiate the acquisition of a new aviation industry balloon, charged with a gas, that illuminates the needs of military aviation and not the egos of that industry. If the IAF / Navy / Army get what they need, when they want it, their support will be willing and unfailing. The last 50 years are evidence of that support, and Indian Armed Forces have a stake in nurturing a domestic aviation industry that surges with pride at delivering what the fauji needs, not what he has to take. The tragicomic Saras of NAL illustrates this dilemma aptly, along with Arjun, INSAS, Indra, and more. Keeping private companies out of the game is the primary aim because far too many skeletons will tumble. Witness the report of only BEL & HAL receiving orders for UAVs. It would be grossly inconvenient to have Tatas, Mahindras, L&T, Bharat Forge and similar corporate successes meshed with the UAV project. Outsiders are taboo. Look at what the Chairman of Medical Council of India is alleged to have done. It is inconceivable that those who should have prevented it were ignorant about his infringements. That is exactly what has happened about the Basic Trainer for the IAF. The MOD knew all along that something terrible is amiss and very soon the Air Force Academy of India will be crippled without trainers. ‘What Me Worry’. That is the attitude of India’s aviation industry which has successfully grounded military aviation training, and achieved this without a shot being fired by our adversary, and no one is to blame? No dismissals? No questions in parliament? No scientist of eminence castigating the DRDO for this criminal failure? No solution except slapping a parachute onto the HPT-32? Blame flying from one to another, like Duryodhan blaming Dronacharya for Pandavas being great warriors. When your intentions are flawed, and dedication is fictitious, you will cast blame on others.

Conclusion

The absence of Basic trainers with no replacement on the horizon is an unenviable position for any Air Force. From a 100 trainers, now there are None. Who and which organisations are responsible for this? The bureaucrat / technocrats will say that the IAF does not make up its mind. If the babu can force the Chiefs of our Armed Forces to desist from making comments on various issues, then they can jolly well force the Chief of Air Staff to choose the Basic trainer. The politico-bureaucratic combine lacks courage to take matters in both hands and do what must be done, and do it correctly. Without courage there cannot be truth; and without truth there can be no other virtue. The civilians who control everything, but are ill-equipped and unwilling, fail to understand that, “War to the soldier is a trade; to the officer it is a profession, to the general it is an art”, said Bonaparte. Conducting flying training for military pilots is an art for the Air Marshal. Regrettably to bureaucrats and politicians it is a dhanda.  The treatment meted out by our aviation industry to Armed Forces is shameful, evidenced by the absence of basic trainers today at our Academy, and while the Air Force Chief will find a solution to keep his forces battle-worthy, the criticality and risk imposed upon the IAF does not seem to worry any technocrat / bureaucrat / politician. Without swift punishment to those who have brought this peril upon India, nothing will change. Does our civilian leadership have it in them? If IPL can survive without Modi, if Foreign Affairs can survive without Tharoor, if Satyam can survive without Raju, if CPI(M) can survive without Chatterjee, our aviation industry and R&D organisations can also survive without current leadership? Do remember when the Devil wants recruits; he does not waste time among the honest and busy.


 This article has been published in Vayu Aerospace and Defence Review. Reproduced here with the Author's Permission