The Indian military industry has worked towards breaking free of the reliance on foreign suppliers through indigenous designs - some proving successful, some not. When the time came to upgrade its fleet of intermediate jet trainers - this currently being the HAL Kiran of 1960s vintage - the Indian military establishment looked to HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) once more and this endeavor has produced the emerging HJT-36 "Sitara". While still in development as of March 2014, with certification expected sometime in 2014, the Sitara is showcased to become the next intermediate jet trainer for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy. The HJT-36 was originally planned to begin service in 2012.
The HJT-36 holds origins in a 1997 initiative which produced a contract for two prototypes in 1999. First flight was recorded on March 7th, 2003. Since then, the program has been met with several delays and high profile incidences. The Indian Air Force, however, remained steadfast on the product and eventually requested 73 of the type. Full rate production was itself delayed and final operational clearance is now expected for December of 2014. Quantitative production is set to begin shortly thereafter. Several major revisions have since taken place to iron out deficiencies encountered in the original design.
The intermediate jet trainer is an important facet of pilot training for the Indian Air Force (and Navy). It is the essential "bridging if the gap" between basic training and advanced training and serves to educate incoming aviators on the nuances of the highly complex modern aircraft. Indeed, nearly half of all IAF crashes since 1970 have been attributed to pilot error and little else.
Design of the HJT-36 is highly conventional with student and instructor cockpits arranged in tandem. Both cockpits are given ejection seats as standard and sit behind a shallow and low nose cone while given a oversized canopy for excellent vision around the aircraft. The single engine installation is buried within the fuselage and exhausts through a small port under the tail. Aspiration is through two small, half-moon openings to either side of the aft cockpit. The empennage consists of a single vertical tail fin coupled with a pair of low-set horizontal planes. The wings are low-mounted at the fuselage sides with sweep along their leading edges and their tips being clipped. The undercarriage is a traditional tricycle arrangement with the main legs sporting single wheels and the nose leg of a dual-wheel design. All are wholly retractable.
The aircraft is powered by the Russian NPO Saturn AL-55I turbofan engine which supplies up to 4,550lbs of thrust while not featuring afterburn capability. Maximum speed is 620 miles per hour with a range out to 620 miles and service ceiling up to 30,000 feet.
Beyond the base intermediate trainer, the IAF is entertaining a light attack version which would feature support for rocket and gun pods as well as conventional drop bombs. There are five expected hardpoints including four underwing.
In January of 2014, the Indian Air Force formally asked the Ministry of Defence to procure a foreign intermediate jet trainer due to the progress (or lack thereof) seen in the HJT-36 program. 2014 marks fifteen years since the HJT-36 program began.