India has issued a request for information for new advanced jet trainers, casting doubt on the future role of the BAE Systems Hawk in the country's air force.
New Delhi ordered 66 Hawk 132s in 2004 after an assessment that took almost 20 years to complete, with an option for another 40 aircraft. The defence ministry, however, has chosen not to take up the options.
Instead, it wants to assess various newer candidates in the market before making a decision. According to Indian media reports, there is also some unhappiness in the Indian air force over problems pertaining to the supply of spares for its existing fleet of Hawks.
India has requested information on BAE's Hawk 128, plus the Aero Vodochody L-159, Alenia Aermacchi M-346, Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50, RSK MiG-AT and Yakovlev Yak-130.
Industry observers say it will be several years before the air force makes a decision, especially since it is likely to wait for the ongoing medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition and Indo-Russian fifth-generation fighter programme to be resolved.
"There is a perception in the Indian air force that its model of the Hawk may not be suitable for the fighters that the service hopes to buy in the coming decades," says a New Delhi-based analyst, who is also a former Indian air force pilot.
"Of course, part of the problem is that the air force took such a long time to select the Hawk that there always was the danger that the aircraft might become obsolete sooner rather than later. This is especially so when we compare the Hawk 132 to aircraft such as the M-346 and T-50. The Hawk has a role to play in the foreseeable future, but the air force will require more modern advanced jet trainers later on," the analyst says.
The Hawk has fallen behind the M-346 and T-50 in recent AJT competitions. The M-346 won the United Arab Emirates' tender in February, edging out the T-50 after a lengthy competition. Both types are still in contention for Singapore's closely watched tender, with the Hawk having already been eliminated. BAE, however, has consistently reiterated that the Hawk still has a future in several overseas markets, including India.