After an agonising wait of 27 years during which over 200 air crashes blotched its flight safety record, the IAF finally inducted the British Hawk-132 advanced jet trainer (AJT) at the Bidar airbase on Saturday. Hawks will simplify the conversion of fledgling fighter pilots from subsonic Kiran trainers to supersonic fighters such as Su-30 MKI, Mirage 2000 and different MiG variants.
The IAF has inducted eight Hawks and another 58 will join its fleet by 2010. Once that happens, rookies will no longer train on the unforgiving MiG-21, whose infamous crash history has earned it epithets such as ‘widow-maker’ and ‘flying coffin’. Dedicating the Hawks to the nation, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said the government has plans to acquire 40 more Hawks.
Group Captain Michael Fernandez, the chief instructor at Bidar, the cradle of fighter pilots in India, remains loyal towards the primitive Iskra trainer he flew in the early 1980s as a rookie. But as an instructor, there's no doubt in this veteran MiG 29 pilot's mind that pilots will now leave Bidar with combat skills which until now were being imparted only in operational units, in a frighteningly demanding environment.
The Hawk is as modern as a trainer can get — the technology-intensive aircraft built by BAE Systems comes with a modern avionics suite and navigation systems, multi-functional displays, cockpit video recording and features like head-up display, mission computer and HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) controls. The Kiran trainer is no match for the Hawk as far as the frills go.
Fernandez told the Hindustan Times, “Budding pilots are quite gizmo-friendly, and video-gaming comes easily to them. Hawk is their toy. It has the features of a fighter but is much more forgiving. It will expose pilots to a realistic fighter at an early stage.” In the absence of Hawks, pilots had to undergo operational fighter training on the MiG-21. The sudden leap from Kiran trainers to MiG-21s was quite daunting as pilots faced a huge variation in aircraft speed, performance and technology.
The government has spent over Rs 120 crore to prepare the Bidar airbase for the Hawks. It now has two runways extended to 9,000 feet, a new air traffic control, a simulator complex, new hangars and an armament complex. Apart from the training role, the Hawk can be used as a lightweight fighter for air combat and ground attack.