Naval utility helicopters in final leg

By Ranjeet Kumar Photo(s): By Airbus Helicopters, AgustaWestland
Airbus AS 565 MBe
AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300

After seven years of protracted process for acquiring naval utility helicopters (NUH), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) seems to have reached another final stage of issuing a request for proposal (RFP). The request for information (RFI) for NUH was issued last year in August and the last date for receiving information from various companies was set as November 24, 2014. Now the Indian Navy and MoD officials seem to have shortlisted the alliance of domestic and foreign partners and ultimately arrived at the stage of issuing an RFP to select companies for over 100 light utility helicopters.

The RFI was issued after canceling the 2012 tender for 56 naval utility helicopters in which Airbus helicopters and Agusta Westland were competing. In the RFI issued last year the MoD notification said that the MoD intends to replace the existing fleet of ageing, licence- built Alouette III /Chetak helicopters and augment the fleet by more than 100 naval helicopters having full search and rescue (SAR) and utility capabilities, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) capability , anti-piracy and anti-terrorism and limited maritime surveillance and targeting capability. The RFI sought inputs towards procurement of the helicopter under the ‘Buy and Make’ (India) category.

The RFI said that the helicopter should be twin engine, having wheeled landing gear and blade fold capability. The helicopter should be capable of operating from ship and ashore. Towards maritime surveillance and targeting capability, weapons to meet the envisaged role would be required to be integrated with the helicopters. The MoD received several proposals from domestic and international companies who have formed an alliance and are bidding jointly for the tender. The entire deal would be more than US$ 2 billion.

According to MoD sources 11 Indian private sector companies, which include Tata Advanced Systems, Bharat Forge, Reliance Defence and Aerospace, Mahindra Aerospace and L&T etc. have responded to the RFI. These Indian companies have proposed to form joint ventures with three foreign companies i.e. AS 565 MBe of Airbus, Bell Helicopters and Super Lynx 300 of Agusta Westland.

Since the Indian Armed forces would be acquiring over 1000 light helicopters in the next decade, the Indian private sector hopes to take advantage of the Indian Government’s ‘Make In India’ policy by participating in the ‘Buy and Make’ (India ) category. The Indian Army and the Indian Air Force would be acquiring these light helicopters under a separate ‘Buy and Make’ (India) category.

The NUH tender will give a fillip to the ‘Make in India’ mission of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This will facilitate transfer of technology to Indian private firms, which they were seriously lacking. India urgently requires domestic helicopter manufacturing facility, which in years to come will fulfill not only the demands from military but also for the civilian agencies.

Early last year, the MoD had cancelled the tender for 56 light utility helicopters to convert it into the ‘Buy and Make’ (India) category to facilitate indigenous production of these under the ‘Make in India’ programme. Simultaneously the MoD is examining the proposals received from various domestic and foreign companies for supply of 197 light utility helicopters, 133 for the Army and 64 for the IAF. The entire programme would be worth US$ 2.5 billion. The RFI for these were issued last October and February 17 was the last date for response. It has been reported that Larsen and Toubro has teamed up with Airbus helicopters and Tata Advanced Systems with Sikorsky aircraft, Mahindra Defence Systems with Bell Helicopter and Punj Lloyd with Russian Helicopters.

According to a naval official, the NUH has to combine several roles into one modern new platform, to enable the Indian Navy to play a vital role in anti-piracy responsibilities in the Indian Ocean region. This is why the naval headquarters wants the NUH to be capable of deploying at least one light weight anti-submarine warfare torpedo or two depth charges with the ability to mount 12.7 mm machine gun or rocket launchers on either side. As far as weight is concerned the Navy would like the helicopter to be less than 4.5 metric tonnes.