India and the United Kingdom have jointly developed a combat ready aircraft that will be on offer to neighbouring countries, countering growing Chinese penetration of the defence market in the region.
The dual role version of the jointly developed Hawk trainer aircraft will make its debut at the AeroIndia show next week, with the Indo-UK combine targeting export markets for the versatile plane.
The Advanced Hawk has been in the works for two years under a unique model with Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and BAE pooling resources to develop a faster, more agile version of the Hawk that can also carry smart weapons.
The aircraft, which is currently being assembled in Bengaluru, has several new features including a new wing design by HAL that gives the plane more agility, extra power and the ability to carry a range of conventional and precision weapons for an operational role.
HAL said there is already considerable interest in the aircraft that will undertake its first flight in March. ''We have had good interest for the aircraft. There have been a few visits by our neighbouring air chiefs who have shown interest,'' HAL chairperson T Suvarna Raju told The Economic Times.
BAE, which manufactures the plane and has exported it across the world, believes that the Advanced Hawk will be in demand by several air forces that are acquiring advanced fighter jets.
The company estimates that there is a requirement of over such 300 trainers worldwide that will be targeted with the new product.
The aircraft is also being showcased as a force multiplier for any air force due to its ability to carry a range of weapons and a laser designation pod. ''The Advanced Hawk can carry a payload of 3,000 kg mounted across seven stations. It is ready to play the role as a force multiplier in combat operations,'' said Dave Corfield, who heads Hawk India.
The aircraft is expected to generate interest at the air show, and the programme will be taken forward after feedback from the potential customers, officials said.
A commercial case is yet to be drawn but the broad plan is to have an equal partnership between HAL and BAE for the export market. The two companies have till now contributed internal resources to build two prototypes of the aircraft.
The Hawk has been a success story in India with 123 aircraft flying with the Air Force and Navy.
HAL, which builds the aircraft under license, is rolling out its 100th Hawk this month. While exports will need clearances by both governments, sources said that the progress of the joint project is being regularly shared at high levels.