IAF drops plans to buy more Pilatus planes amid CBI probe
The Indian Air Force has decided to abandon plans to buy 38 more Pilatus PC-7 MkII planes from Switzerland and, instead, launched a fresh global hunt for basic trainers at a time when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing an earlier deal with the Swiss plane maker for 75 aircraft, for alleged corruption and irregularities, two senior officials said on condition of anonymity on Friday.
The development is likely to delay the induction of much-needed basic trainer aircraft into the IAF, said one of the officials cited above.
Last month, CBI booked unnamed officials of the IAF and the defence ministry, Pilatus Aircraft Limited and absconding arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari for allegedly influencing the sale of 75 basic trainers ordered in 2012. The agency searched several premises in Delhi last month in connection with the case, including Bhandari’s office and residence.
The Rs 2,900-crore contract for 75 trainers contained a clause for a follow-on purchase of 38 more planes.
“The government has conveyed to the IAF that it should not pursue the follow-on option, keeping the CBI probe in mind. There is likely to be a government-to-government deal for more basic trainers as it is a critical need,” said the second official cited above.
Trainers are manufactured by US, European, Russian and Korean plane makers. The second official underlined that the indigenous Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40, built by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, does not meet the IAF’s requirements in its current form.
Rookie pilots go through a three-stage training involving the PC-7, Kiran and finally the Hawk advanced jet trainers before they can fly fighter jets. As Kiran trainers are approaching the end of their service life, some amount of stage 2 training is being done on the PC-7, the first official said. He added that the delay in the indigenous Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT) programme, conceived two decades ago, has also upset the IAF’s calculations.
The single-engine HJT-36, as the IJT is called, made its maiden flight in 2003 and was planned as a replacement for the Kiran aircraft. The project was sanctioned in July 1999 with a grant of Rs 180 crore.
“Basic trainers are very important and we need to get more of those quickly as the requirement of pilots is going up significantly. The IAF is training almost 140 pilots every six months compared to about 110 in the past,” said Air Marshal KK Nohwar (retd), director general, Centre of Air Power Studies. He said the numbers have gone up due to the large fleet of Su-30 fighters and the two-man cockpit requirement.
CBI has alleged that Pilatus Aircraft Limited entered into a criminal conspiracy with Bhandari and Bimal Sareen, both directors of Offset India Solutions Private Limited, and dishonestly signed a service provider agreement with Bhandari in June 2010.
This agreement, the agency said, was in violation of India’s weapons procurement rules.
The agency has alleged that the plane maker deposited a million Swiss francs in the account of Offset India Solution Private Limited in two tranches in 2010.
Also, ~350 crore was transferred in Swiss francs to the bank accounts of Dubai-based Offset India Solutions FZC, also a Bhandari company, during 2011-2015.
The CBI has also alleged that Pilatus signed a pre-contract integrity pact with the defence ministry in November 2010, deliberately concealing the facts about service provider agreement with Bhandari.
An email seeking comments from Pilatus was not answered till the time of going to press.