NEW DELHI, June 28 (UPI) -- India's air force faces a pilot training crisis in two years unless Hindustan Aeronautics delivers its new Intermediate Jet Trainer on time.
Until 2009, every pilot -- fighter, transport and helicopter -- started training in the Hindustan Piston Trainer but the HPT-32 was grounded in 2009 after a series of crashes.
Cadets now start straight into operating the Kiran Mk-1, the intermediate jet trainer that is the mainstay Stage 2 pilot training aircraft.
But the two-seat Kiran, which was introduced in 1968, will complete its lifespan by 2015 and will have to be decommissioned, a report by India's NDTV said.
The new Intermediate Jet Trainer by HAL and known as Sitara first flew in 2003 and is slated to replace the Kirans.
Initial prototypes used a SNECMA Turbomeca Larzac 04-H-20 turbofan engine. Production versions will use an NPO Saturn AL-55I turbofan engine.
But the military is concerned that the IJT, of which around 200 will be needed, won't be ready in time.
"It isn't a panic situation yet but in another six to eight months, if the IJT program doesn't come to speed, we will have to hit the panic button," an unnamed senior air force officer told NDTV.
"We are keeping our fingers crossed and hope that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will deliver this time," he said.
The NDTV report said the air force is cutting back on the number of flying hours per trainee pilot in the Kirans in order to extend the life of the aircraft.
The earlier versions of the subsonic low swept-wing Kiran have Rolls-Royce Viper turbo-jet engines while later versions have RR's Orpheus turbo-jets.
The minimum flying hours that a cadet is required to fly in Stage 1 training has been cut about 40 percent.
"The training schedule of cadets has been rescheduled so that we don't exhaust the available life span of the Kirans too quickly," an air force official told NDTV.
If HAL fails to deliver the IJT by 2015 then the air force may have to send its pilots overseas for their basic training, a situation "not acceptable," the air force official said.
Several of the IJT prototypes have had accidents, although none fatal.
During an Aero India exposition in 2007 an IJT prototype careened off the runway after its canopy inadvertently opened just as the pilot was getting airborne for an aerobatic sortie, a report in the Hindu newspaper said.
As a direct replacement for the turbo-prop HPT-32, India has order 75 Swiss Pilatus PC-7 MK II aircraft for around $520 million, NDTV said. The first aircraft are expected by the end of the year.
The arrival of the Swiss-made aircraft will reduce flying hours on the Kirans which nonetheless still will be nearing their decommissioning period.