IAF's formation aerobatic team Surya Kirans have taken the first step to switch from the present Kiran MkII aircraft to the 'Hawks' Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT) that the Air Force acquired three years ago.
"We have initiated the process of changing to the Hawks and we have already tried our hands on these aircraft," a senior Surya Kirans officer said here. "The team will take another couple of years or more to completely shift to the Hawks aircraft," he said.
The Kiran MkII or HJT-16, an indigenous twin-seater trainer, will be with the Surya Kirans for another five years before which the Hawks would be inducted into the team.
The nine-aircraft Surya Kirans is one of the three such teams in the world alongside the Royal Air Force's and Canadian Air Force's. It has completed 14 years of existence and was conferred with the status of an IAF fighter squadron in May 2006.
Kiran MkII, a 5-tonne aircraft capable of touching speeds of 780 kmph, can be modified into a fighter aircraft to provide close air support or fulfill counter insurgency roles, carrying two 250-kg bombs, 68mm rockets, besides two integral 7.62 mm guns.
Hawks were bought by India in 2004 under a Rs 6,600 crore deal with the British BAE Systems for 66 aircraft to provide advanced Stage-III flying training to IAF's rookie pilots before they graduated into full-fledged fighter aces.
The AJTs were formally inducted into the IAF in early 2008 after the first batch of the 24 aircraft bought off-the-shelf from BAE were delivered at Bidar air base in Karnataka, where the Surya Kirans are also currently based.
The remaining 42 Hawks are being produced at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore under a technology transfer.
India has now ordered 57 more Hawks from HAL, of which 40 would go to the IAF and the rest 17 to the Navy. With a maximum take-off weight of 9 tonnes and speeds of 1.2 Mach (1.2 times the speed of sound), Hawks can be used as a combat aircraft, as it can carry 30mm cannon and 3,000-kg of bombs including AIM-9 Sidewinder advanced short-range air-to-air missiles.