M A I N   N E W S

Pilotless aircraft off-target
27 yrs on and Rs 165 cr later, it fails to meet IAF norms
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 2
The ministry of defence cleared bulk production of indigenously developed pilotless target aircraft (PTA) without evaluating their performance. This led to the Air Force putting a hold on its induction, thereby seriously affecting training of pilots and missile crew.

The IAF, as a result, has also withdrawn its commitment to the PTA’s follow-on development programme in favour of imports.

After spending Rs 165 crore and a lapse of 27 years, the PTA, produced by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), did not fully meet the qualitative requirements of the IAF. Despite this, the DRDO went ahead for the limited series production.

The IAF initially inducted three PTA, but refused to accept the remaining 12 aircraft. These were meant for providing realistic airborne targets for training aircrew and ground crew in air-to-air and surface-to-air weaponry.

It has been revealed that the engine developed by HAL had certain limitations. The PTA could fly up to an altitude of only 6,500 meters against the requirement of 9,000 meters. Further, HAL offered a guarantee of only five landings against an envisioned requirement for minimum 10 landings. The IAF had accepted these limitations so that training did not further get adversely affected.

Missions carried out by IAF revealed numerous defects and design deficiencies which were brought to the notice of the DRDO. None of the improvements were proved, but the MoD concluded a contract with the HAL without waiting for the results for the performance. Consequently, HAL proceeded to undertake bulk production with major deficiencies like defects in tow body, poor endurance, inadequate product support and deficiency in booster brackets.

The first campaign with the PTA could only be undertaken in December, 2006, due to multiple engine problems. During trials, the PTA could be test flown only up to eight of 2,500 meters. It was again test flown in March, 2007, but its operational capability could not be verified as it crashed into water within 14 seconds after launch.

The IAF’s annual requirement for missile firing and annual training is 158 aerial targets, for which existing PTA would have to deliver 79 launches per year. The inability of the PTA to meet the training requirements has adversely affected the training status of pilots and missile crew.

In October, 2007, Air Headquarters had revealed that the HAL-supplied PTA could meet only 27 per cent of its requirements.



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