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Army Aviation's Helicopter Deal Awaited

Army Aviation's Helicopter Deal Awaited

There is a fresh RFP under the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopter programme in which India plans to buy 187 locally-designed light utility helicopter (LUH) single-engine helicopters and import 197 LUH helicopters of a foreign design at a cost of about $750 million with a delivery schedule of 12 years

Army Aviation Corps (AAC) currently holds 11 squadrons and five independent flights of Chetaks/Cheetahs with a total strength of about 300 helicopters. Chetaks (Aerospatiale SA316 Alouette III) and Cheetahs (SE316B Alouette II) have performed extremely well in all types of terrain and weather conditions but their safety is now suspected as these have aged. AAC thus wants to replace them with the latest state-of-the-art helicopters with improved performance. The new generation helicopters will perform a variety of armed light utility tasks but their acid test will be flying in the Siachen Glacier at about 23,000 feet above sea level due to the reduced rotor lift in the rarefied air.

RFPs

The Ministry of Defence issued its first request for proposal (RFP) for 197 helicopters in 2003 for urgent replacement of the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters at a cost of approximately $600 million. Out of 197 helicopters, 55 helicopters were to be purchased outright, with another 142 to be built under license at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Bell 407 and Eurocopter AS 550 C3 were shortlisted and underwent extensive trials. It appeared that Eurocopter had won the race but the government put the deal on hold to investigate allegations regarding the role of two senior army officers and a senior bureaucrat in pushing the deal for Eurocopter. It emerged that Eurocopter which underwent trials was not the same as the one named in the technical offer and the case was referred to the Central Vigilance Commission, which also felt that the rules were flouted. The directions for re-tendering were thus issued accordingly.

The new generation helicopters will perform a variety of armed light utility tasks but their acid test will be flying in the Siachen Glacier at about 23,000 feet above sea level due to the reduced rotor lift in the rarefied air

However, Eurocopter claimed that the helicopter presented during the trials was identical to the one proposed to the Indian Army and all trials were conducted with utmost transparency and professionalism. Besides no irregularities were identified by the Defence Ministry’s Technical Oversight Committee which verified the evaluation procedures prior to final selection. Similarly, Bell also protested. It also emerged that the shortlisted aircraft were demonstrated and tested on ground and in flight by the Indian Army’s evaluation team and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) representatives during fact-finding visits that occurred within the original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) facilities in France and the US. Also there were very minor differences between the demonstrated and actual helicopters. It was a major embarrassment as the French Foreign Minister visited India during the end of 2007 to finalise the deal before it was to be signed in the presence of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was to be the chief guest during the Republic Day Parade 2008. Whatever the reasons, the end result was that the process had to be restarted with a possible delay of four-six years.

The field trials of Eurocopter’s AS550 C3 Fennec and Kamov’s Ka-226 have been completed almost a year back. It is hoped that there is no further rough weather in concluding the deal.

The MoD then issued a global RFP for 312 helicopters i.e. 197 for the Army and 115 for the Indian Air Force worth about $1billion to Bell (USA), Eurocopter (France, Germany and Spain), AgustaWestland (Italy) and Kamov (Russia). Bell later on withdrew their offer for some reasons. It was also reported in the media that the Defence Acquisition Council has approved the induction of 695 helicopters in the near future which include 384 light, 80 medium-lift, 22 attack, 16 anti-submarine warfare, 15 heavy-lift and 12 VVIP helicopters from foreign vendors, while another 166 would be the indigenous Dhruv ALHs. However, this had also taken a nose dive probably due to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

It appears now that there is a fresh RFP under the “Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopter programme” in which India plans to buy 187 locally-designed light utility helicopter (LUH) single-engine helicopters and import 197 LUH helicopters of a foreign design at a cost of about $750 million with a delivery schedule of 12 years.

Shortlisted Helicopters

Helicopters of Eurocopter and Russia’s Kamov were shortlisted for the helicopters to be imported. Details are as follows:

Eurocopter

HAL and Eurocopter’s predecessor Aerospatiale and HAL have been working jointly for many decades as the Indian Army’s helicopters have Aerospatiale origin. Eurocopter’s AS550 C3 Fennec was apparently the leading contender in 2007 when the deal was scrapped. Eurocopter had also entered into an Industrial Cooperation Partnership Agreement with HAL for the supply of the composite and metallic structural assemblies for the Ecureuil and Fennec families for the world market. It has a maximum take-off weight of 2,250 kg, the power plant is one Turbomeca Arriel 2b turbine engine, recommended cruise speed is 225 km/hr and service ceiling is 7,000 m.

Kamov

Russia’s Kamov had also responded to the first RFP in late 2003, alongside Bell and Eurocopter with Ka-226 helicopter but was not shortlisted during the paper evaluation as it did not have flight certification. Meanwhile, Ka-226 got its certification and the re-tender process helped them to participate in the bid. Ka-226 uses the same counter-rotating design as Kamov’s other helicopters, which are in service with the Indian Navy. It also has an unusual feature as it can become a sky crane by detaching its body pod. Other mission pods can also be fitted for specialty roles which give the helicopter considerable versatility. The Ka-226 is also reported to be considerably cheaper than its rivals.

HAL’s LUH

In response to Parliamentary queries, Defence Minister A.K. Antony had stated that “there is a proposal for procurement of 187 LUH under design and development project undertaken by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The project was sanctioned by the Government of India in February 2009. The project is proceeding as per approved timelines”. He referred to HAL’s single-engine LUH design which has been derived from Dhruv. With HAL having been given the contract for 187 helicopters, India’s requirement for imports has been considerably reduced. HAL’s LUH, which is also called light observation helicopter, is reportedly to be a three-tonne helicopter with a single Shakti engine, instead of the Dhruv’s twin engines. Its projected speed is up to 120 knots with a service ceiling of 21,300 feet. Mock-up of LUH was displayed at Aero India 2011 and the first flight is expected in 2013. Production is planned to begin in 2015 at 10 per year, later on going up to 36 per year and delivery of 187 HAL’s LUHs is to be completed by 2022.

The field trials of Eurocopter’s AS550 C3 Fennec and Kamov’s Ka-226 have been completed almost a year back. It is hoped that there is no further rough weather in concluding the deal.


Source: By Lt General (Retd) Naresh Chand, (spslandforces.net) News – 9 May 2013

Photo: The Indian Army Aviation Cheetah Helicopters (Photo by illuminativisuals.com
Abhishek Singh)


(9.5.2013)


 
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