NEW DELHI, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- India's national Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team will be flying Hawks although the switch to the new planes may not be occur until 2016, a report in the Business Standard said.
The Hawks, to be built in India, will replace the Kiran Mark II trainers that SKAT has flown since 1996. The Kiran, originally powered by a Rolls-Royce Viper Mk II engine, was flown for the first time in 1964.
The Mark II was a more powerful version powered by a Bristol Siddeley Orpheus engine and had improved weapon-carrying capability. It first flew in 1976 and entered service in 1985. Production ended in 1989 after 61 were built.
The Indian air force has initiated procurement of 21 Hawk aircraft for its SKAT unit, built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore, the Business Standard said.
But HAL Chairman Ashok Nayak said the 21 Hawks would be built only after completion of the current order for 123 Hawks for the Indian air force and navy for training purposes.
"The (Indian air force) has initiated the follow-on procurement of 21 additional Hawks from BAE Systems," Nayak said. "These are mainly for its aerobatics team but also to replace the couple of Hawks that have been lost in crashes."
Nayak, appointed chairman in 2009, joined HAL in 1973 as a mechanical engineer and was managing director of the Bangalore plant with responsibility for production of the Hawks as well as the ongoing Tejas Light Combat Aircraft.
In March 2004, the Indian government signed a contract with BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce Turbomeca UK for the purchase of 24 Hawk AJTs to be built in the United Kingdom.
Also agreed at the same time was for HAL in Bangalore to manufacture another 42 Hawks under a transfer of technology contract. Further orders followed for Hawks made by HAL.
The air force is using the Hawk as a trainer but the aircraft has the ability to be converted to a low-cost fighter.
HAL will finish building the 123 Hawks by 2015 and can produce the 21 for SKAT in 2016, Nayak said.
The air force and navy are in serious need of all the 123 Hawks because the entire fleet of HPT-32 Deepak basic trainers -- built by HAL -- was grounded in July 2009 over safety concerns. Nineteen pilots have died in 17 Deepak crashes over the years in the single-engine turboprop trainer in which pilot and student sit side by side.
But Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne has demanded SKAT starts performing again in their new Hawks within three years, the Business Standard said.
The air force is also looking at HAL's HJT-36 Sitara, a prototype trainer designed and built in Indian and undergoing flight tests. It uses digital avionics from GE Aviation Systems and a head-up display and repeater from Elbit Systems.
The Sitara originally was designed to use a SNECMA Turbomeca Larzac engine but the prototype uses a Russian NPO Saturn AL-55I unit.