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The Indian Air Force (IAF) is facing a crucial decision as it prepares to bid farewell to its trusty Kiran trainers by 2025. The IAF had long awaited the Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT), a program initiated by the state-owned aerospace manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as a replacement for the Kiran fleet. However, the fate of the Sitara program hangs in the balance as the IAF weighs its options with the impending retirement of the Kiran trainers.

The Kiran trainers have played a pivotal role in the IAF’s training curriculum, equipping pilots with the necessary skills and expertise to graduate to advanced fighter aircraft. As these venerable trainers near the end of their service life, the IAF’s attention has turned to the Sitara IJT, envisioned to take over stage-II training of fighter pilots.

The Sitara IJT has traversed a lengthy development journey, beset by delays and challenges. While the aircraft has completed essential trials, the testing phase is still ongoing, with potential timelines stretching up to another three years. HAL, responsible for the IJT’s development, has demonstrated the aircraft’s capacity to perform six turn spins – a pivotal requirement for trainers. The ability to enter and recover from spins is a crucial skill for trainee pilots, helping them comprehend and master recovery procedures from controlled flight departures.

Despite HAL’s efforts to fine-tune the IJT, the IAF is closely evaluating the program’s progress and capabilities. As 2025 approaches, the IAF faces a critical juncture in determining the Sitara’s fate and its suitability as a replacement for the aging Kiran trainers. With pilot training being a cornerstone of air force operations, the IAF’s decision will be guided by the imperative to ensure a seamless transition for its trainee pilots.

In the midst of this deliberation, HAL has proposed the development of the Hindustan Lead-in Fighter Trainer (HLFT-42). This innovative solution could potentially serve as a Lead-in Fighter Trainer (LIFT) during the Stage-III training program. By introducing the HLFT-42, the IAF could adapt its training approach in line with global trends observed in other leading air forces.

Many top-tier air forces around the world have embraced LIFT aircraft, either by introducing a Stage-IV training phase or reconfiguring their pilot training process. The incorporation of LIFT aircraft and increased emphasis on aircraft simulators during the initial training phase offer a modernized and efficient approach to pilot instruction.

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