NEWS WITH VIEWS
In the last week of January this year, the Indian aerospace major the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) rolled out the first indigenously upgraded Hawk Mk132 advanced jet trainer (AJT) in record time. “This is the 100th Hawk aircraft produced at HAL and we are proud that it has a ‘Made in India’ mark,” the Chairman and Managing Director (CMD), HAL, T. Suvarna Raju, said soon after the aircraft was unveiled. “This aircraft, which was rolled out on the eve of the Republic Day, would be showcased at the Aero India 2017, the international air show to be held at Yelahanka, Bengaluru, between 14 and 18 February,” he said. The upgraded aircraft which will also be a part of the flying display at the air show, has rightly been designated as the Hawk-i (Hawk-India).
Of British origin, the Hawk is a low-wing trainer aircraft powered by a single jet engine. Ranked in the category of advanced jet trainer (AJT), the aircraft was designed and developed by Hawker Siddeley. The prototype took to the air for the first time over four decades ago in 1974 at Dunsfold, Surrey, located in the southern part of England. Subsequently, the Hawk project was taken over initially by the British Aerospace and later by BAE Systems when it was formed in November 1999 after the merger of British Aerospace with Marconi Electronic Systems, a subsidiary of the General Electric Company. Employed as a platform for the training of combat pilots, so far, more than 900 aircraft have been sold to 18 operators around the world.
With its proven design and advanced avionics, the Hawk 132 AJT is an ideal platform to bridge the gap for trainee fighter pilots between the intermediate jet trainer and high performance operational combat jets. The Indian Air Force (IAF) formally inducted the Hawk 132 AJT on February 23, 2008, at its facility to train fighter pilots which is located at Air Force Station in Bidar, north Karnataka. The Hawk 132 is an export variant and is powered by the Rolls-Royce Adour Mk 871 engine. This model was previously known as the Hawk Mk 115Y. The process of acquisition of the Hawk 132 by the IAF was both protracted and tedious. Plagued by frequent accidents many of which were attributed to pilot error resulting from inadequacy in training on account of the lack of a dedicated AJT, the IAF initiated a case for the procurement of the Hawk in the early 1980s. However, more than two decades elapsed before the contract with BAE Systems for 66 aircraft was signed on March 26, 2004. Some 24 of the platforms were delivered by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in flyaway condition and the remaining have been manufactured in India by HAL. A follow-on order for 57 more Hawk 132 has been placed of which 40 are for the IAF and the remaining 17 are for the Indian Navy, bringing the total order to 123. Deliveries against this order for additional aircraft is scheduled to be completed in the current year. The IAF has projected a requirement for another 20 aircraft for its formation aerobatic team, the Surya Kiran, raised on the lines of the Red Arrows of the Royal Air Force. The contract is expected to be concluded soon. With the full complement of aircraft delivered, the IAF will be one of the largest operators in the world of this platform. The aircraft has helped the IAF upgrade training standards in respect of combat pilots as also has been able to enhance flight safety. Overall, the Hawk 132 AJT fleet has had a beneficial impact on the quality of training of combat pilots. As of the end of 2016, the fleet of Hawk 132 on the inventory of the IAF has clocked 1,00,000 hours of flying, traversing an impressive milestone and adding a proverbial feather to its cap!
As per T. Suvarna Raju, CMD of HAL, the programme for indigenous upgrade of the Hawk 132 AJT was conceived and executed for achieving a higher degree self-reliance in certain areas of indigenous production of the aircraft such as “integration of new subsystems or modifications, obsolescence management of avionics systems and to enhance the aircraft operational and training capabilities”. Specifically, in the Hawk-i upgraded platform under consideration, the Mission Computer and Data Transfer Units that were provided by the OEM, have now been replaced by systems designed and developed by HAL itself. The new indigenously developed Mission Computer in the dual redundant configuration has improved features and enhanced capabilities such as Digital Map Generation which provides for better situational awareness for the pilots.
The upgraded aircraft has secure voice communication and data link capability achieved through the integration of Softnet Radio. With the help of this innovation, pilots will now be able to configure and select cockpit Human Machine Interface for different aircraft platforms. The aircraft has also been fitted with an Embedded Virtual Training System (EVTS) that offers improved training capability over the system currently in use.
BAE Systems and HAL are working to develop a combatready version of the Hawk designated as the Hawk 132+ that is expected to be unveiled at Aero India 2017. The manufacturers are also exploring options for export of the Hawk 132+ to countries that are seeking to build up air power at low cost. The IAF may procure some of these platforms to be employed for training of combat pilots in weapon systems.