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Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) ambitious HLFT-42 program, unveiled in 2023 as the “Next Gen Supersonic Trainer,” seems to be facing delays. While the initial reveal showcased a promising design with a 4.5-ton weapon payload and the ability to act as a light combat jet, crucial decisions regarding final configuration and engine selection remain unresolved.

The HLFT-42 captured attention with its impressive capabilities. Boasting a 4.5-ton weapon payload capacity and a 16.5-ton Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW), it promised to not only provide advanced pilot training for 4th and 5th-generation fighters but also function as a light combat jet. This versatility, coupled with the potential for combat teaming scenarios, made it an attractive proposition for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

However, progress since the unveiling has been slow. Negotiations between HAL and the IAF regarding the final configuration of the aircraft are yet to be concluded. This lack of clarity extends to the number of units the IAF plans to procure, making financial viability a lingering concern.

Despite these hurdles, HAL plans to move forward with an initial prototype. This prototype will utilize internal funds and leverage components from existing Tejas programs (Mk1A and MkII). However, a crucial element remains undecided – the engine. While HAL has expressed interest in a more powerful option than the F-414 engine used in the Tejas MkII, the specific powerplant for the production variant remains shrouded in mystery.

Sources close to suggest that HAL is not prioritizing this program. Even with a resolution on the final configuration and engine selection, a rollout date in the early 2030s seems like a best-case scenario based on current information.

For the HLFT-42 program to gain momentum, swift action is needed. Reaching an agreement on the final configuration, determining procurement numbers, and finalizing engine selection are crucial steps. Addressing these issues will determine whether the HLFT-42 takes flight as a game-changer in pilot training and combat readiness, or remains grounded in delays.

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