By Atul Chandra
The Indian military rotorcraft acquisition and modernisation programmes that made the country a must visit market for global helicopter majors is now slated to be complete over the next few years. According to Frost & Sullivan research, the military will account for more than 60 per cent of the global helicopter demand over the next 10 years (in terms of market value), generating revenues of nearly USD 200 billion, and creating orders of nearly 9,000 platforms between 2011-2020.
The Indian requirements alone for military rotorcraft would be in excess of a 1000 helicopters by the year 2020 and beyond. With the competitions for the Indian Air Force and Indian Army coming to a close, requirements from the Indian Navy and Coast Guard for light and medium helicopters will offer global manufacturers another chance to make a mark in India.
The largest and most important tender at present, remains that of 197 Reconnaissance and Surveillance helicopters (133 for Army, 64 for IAF), that has taken more than 8 years. The delay in the acquisition of this vital class of helicopter is a sad reflection of India’s convoluted procurement policies and will ensure that the Indian Air Force and Indian Army aviators will be forced to continue flying the vintage HAL built Cheetah and Chetak helicopters for more years to come. The two platforms that have made it to the final stage are Eurocopter’s AS-550C3 Fennec and the Kamov Ka-226T.
Commenting on the trials, Rainer Farid, vice president of sales & customer relations, South Asia, Eurocopter, told FORCE that, “The extended field evaluation trials have been completed in late 2010 and the Fennec has performed flawlessly. We hope that the MoD will make its final decision by the middle of this year, as this programme has gone on for eight years, and we have been assured in the new RFP of 2008 that it will be a fast-tracked procedure, where delivery was required to be completed within one year for the first batch.”
He went on to say, “We have spent considerable time and money in this extended programme, which clearly shows our commitment. We have full faith in the Indian establishment to make a fair decision on which product is best suited for India’s requirements. We don’t foresee any reasons for any further delays because the MoD has followed all procedures and the process has been conducted in a fair and transparent manner. We have no doubt that the results will be out soon.”
If the Ka-226T is selected then it would be the first time that the IAF and Army Aviation would be acquiring a co-axial helicopter, as thus far Kamov’s have only been flown by the Indian Naval Air Arm. Whatever be the outcome, the fact of the matter is that the decision could not come a moment too soon. Another acquisition that could be heading for rough weather is the contract for delivery of 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters for the VVIP transport role. The contract was signed in February 2010 and now appears to be under a cloud, in the light of recent events. As per the delivery schedule the first AW101 was due to be delivered by end of this year with the rest to follow in 2013.
Boeing has continued its spectacular successes in the Indian defence market by overcoming competition from the Mi-28N for an IAF requirement for 22 attack helicopters with its AH-64D Apache Block III. What makes this one so interesting is that it is the first purely offensive platform that India has ever purchased from the US. Boeing has refrained from commenting further on the competition stating that it is deferring all questions until the IAF makes an official statement. The Apache India proposal is an integrated programme that includes both a direct commercial sale component and a foreign military sales component (FMS). The proposal includes offset elements and firm, fixed-cost pricing. The FMS contract for the Apache includes munitions, training, aircraft certification, and components including engines, Electro Optical (EO) sensors and the fire control radar (option). The direct commercial sale portion of the contract primarily consists of the aircraft (less engines/sensors), logistic support, spares and services.
The attack helicopter competition has a 30 per cent offset obligation and Boeing has committed to meet the IAF’s requested delivery schedule outlined in the RFP. The standard US Army delivery time is 36 months from contract award. Boeing is also in the running for the IAF requirement for 15 heavy lift helicopters in competition with the Mi-26 T2. The trials took place at Chandigarh and Leh and according to Boeing, the IAF deemed the Chinook as having met all the requirements set forth in the RFP after evaluation of the technical proposal and field evaluation trials conducted by the IAF. The US Army has extensive experience perfecting synergies of Apache and Chinook working together, particularly using Chinook to resupply Apache on the battlefield, using the concept of FARPs (Forward Arming and Refuel Points).
The FARP concept allows the attack helicopter to remain constantly engaged with the enemy in the battle zone, while the transport helicopter brings fuel and armaments to the resupply points at the front. This could be a plus if the Chinook is selected. The new all-digital cockpit in the CH-47F, which is the basis of the configuration under consideration by the IAF, provides major new improvements in digital flight control and navigation systems that enhance safety under conditions of limited visibility. The new 714 engines, with increased power and full authority digital engine controls (FADEC) and engine air particle separator (EAPS) greatly enhance the Chinook’s performance at high altitude and in dusty conditions. The Mi-26 T2 is competing for this contract and features improved 1,165-shp D-136-2 turboshaft engines, with FADEC and a contingency power rating of 1,250 shp at temperatures above 30 degrees C. The Mi-26 T2 also features a glass cockpit with upgraded avionics and navigation system, reducing the flight crew to 2 in addition to the flight engineer. Selecting the M-26 T2 would offer the IAF the advantage of already established training, operational and spares infrastructure however the long term future of the Mi-26 T2 is bleak and future upgrades over an operational lifespan of 30 years are likely to be a source of concern for the IAF.
With the Indian Air Force and Indian Army Aviation, competitions are on the verge of completion. It is the Indian Navy and Coast Guard competitions for medium helicopters that will now keep interest in the Indian market alive. The Indian Navy’s requirement for 16 Multi Role Helicopters (with 8 options) worth USD 1 billion has seen the completion of field trials and the opening of commercial bids is awaited. NH Industries (NHI) NH-90 and the Sikorsky S70B are competing for the contract. AgustaWestland is leading the campaign to sell the NH90 helicopter which is an 11-ton helicopter. The Navy also issued an RFI last year for more Multi Role Helicopters. The RFI called for the helicopter to be able to conduct Anti Surface Warfare (ASW), Anti Submarine Warfare (AsuW) and Special Operation/Commando roles with a common airframe, engines, avionics etc. for ease of maintenance training and Op-logistics issues.
The Indian Navy is also looking to acquire 56 Naval Utility Helicopters worth more than USD 800 million. The helicopters will be used for shore and ship based operations and is expected to receive responses from all the major players in this segment. The Indian Coast Guard has a requirement for, 16 ship-based light/medium helicopters and 14 shore based helicopters (RFP yet to be issued). Eurocopter will be offering its AS 565 MB Naval Panther for the Indian Coast Guard’s requirement of 16 ship-based light/medium helicopters, as well as the Indian Navy’s anticipated acquisition of 56 utility helicopters. Eurocopter will offer the EC725 for the requirement of 14 shore-based helicopters by the Coast Guard also has a requirement for dry lease of eight helicopters and Sikorsky has offered the S 76C and technical evaluations have been carried out.
One of the companies that seem to have missed out on the Indian military rotorcraft market is Bell Helicopter that is not involved with any military programme in India. Bell however continues to see India as a potential market for military equipment and says that its mix of military products could provide significant capabilities to India. The company has invested in Bell Helicopter’s new India office that officially opened last month. Bell Helicopter has had a presence in India for nearly 20 years, opening a liaison office in 1995. There are currently more than 100 Bell aircraft operating throughout India.
In 2004, Bell Helicopter's parent company, Textron Inc, opened an engineering and technology centre in Bangalore. Since that time, the Bell Helicopter team has grown to 80 engineers and that number is expected to nearly double by the end of the year. The team in India works on critical engineering activities to develop new products and support our customers globally.
What’s on Offer
Eurocopter AS550 C3 Fennec: According to Eurocopter, the Fennec demonstrated excellent results during its extended field evaluation trials in 2010 at temperatures of +50 degree C in the deserts of Punjab and -30 degree C at 6000m altitude in Ladakh. It is certified for carriage of a 20mm gun pod or 12.7mm machine guns, 2.75" rockets or Anti-Tank Missiles and Air-to-Air Missile ATAM. According to Eurocopter, in just an hour, the Fennec can transport 25 commandos 20 km at altitudes of up to 4,000 meters, at ISA temperatures, and up to 3,500 meters at ISA +20 degree C, while at the same time performing take-offs out of ground effect. Its stability, manoeuvrability and low detectability make it an excellent platform. When armed with four missiles, it can perform a tactical flight mission lasting two hours 30 minutes, both day and night, and still have a fuel reserve of 20 minutes. Eurocopter has said that it will deliver the first helicopters after 12 months of contract signature and will perform 100 per cent Transfer of Technology to HAL for Depot Level Maintenance and manufacture of Fennec parts, hence assuring a lifetime support for the Fennec fleet.
Kamov Ka-226T: This helicopter can carry a 1,200 kg payload in its transport and 1,500 kg with an under slung load. Its range is 600 km with basic fuel tanks which can be increased to 750 km with additional tanks. Kamov is offering an expanded range of capabilities in terms of precision manoeuvring, rate of climb and flight ceiling of up to 7000m at the request of the client. It features two modern Turbomeca Arrius 2G1 engines and its coaxial rotor system, offers higher thrust capacity and rate of climb, which increases the helicopter’s static ceiling. Rosoboronexport, together with companies of the Russian Helicopters holding, is proposing to set up joint production of sub-systems and components for the Ka-226T, and subsequently to set up assembly of the helicopter in India and also joint development of new modifications for future variants of the Ka-226T.
Boeing AH-64D Apache Block 3: India will get the latest Apache Block III helicopter. The first AH-64D Apache Block III was delivered to the U.S. Army in November 2011; and as of early May, a dozen Apache Block III aircraft had been delivered. More than 300 international AH-64s are in service, in production or under contract with 11 countries, including Egypt, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and United Kingdom. This will also enable IAF attack helicopter pilots to take part in joint exercises with other Apache operators in their AH-64D Apache Block 3, something that was not possible with the older Mi-35 attack helicopters.
The Apache Block III features critical capabilities in the areas of increased aircraft performance, enhanced cognitive decision aiding, extended range sensors and weapons, off-board sensors (Level IV UAS control), and future force connectivity with Open System Architecture (OSA). OSA also allows for rapid infusion of new technologies. This Apache will have a reduced operation and support cost and a smaller logistical footprint. Utilising this open architecture, the Apache Block III will also provide Joint network centric connectivity via Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) hardware. The US Army has begun thinking about an Extended Block III programme, beginning in 2017, for which Boeing, the US Army and other industry partners are currently developing technological insertions. It is likely that India would benefit from these upgrades as well. The original US Army plan called for 634 AH-64D Apache Block III helicopters. The OSD ‘add’ of 56 new-build aircraft will increase the Block III programme to 690 aircraft.
Eurocopter AS565 MBe Naval Panther: The Naval Panther being offered to India is the AS565 MBe version with improved performance. The AS565 MB Panther is a complementary asset for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface unit warfare (ASuW) tasks as submarine and surface target destruction: It can launch its own torpedoes and provide over-the-horizon targeting (OTHT) to surface ships. In the coming years, it will also be armed with light anti-ship missile giving it a ship strike capability. The AS565 MB Panther incorporates the company’s latest-generation, 100 percent composite Fenestron® tail rotor — which provides high manoeuvrability, low external noise and optimal safety for passengers, ground and air crews. Its recent main orders are: US Coast Guard mid-life upgrading for the next 25 years, French Navy mid-life upgrading for the next 25 years, new aircraft for Bulgarian Navy, new aircraft for Saudi Arabian Navy (RSNF), Remanufactured aircraft for Chilean Navy, new aircraft for MMEA (Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency), new aircraft for Mexican Navy. The current main prospects include the Navy of countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Ecuador, Colombia and Morocco. The Panther is the military version of the Dauphin helicopter, 35 of which have logged more than 375,000 flight hours with Pawan Hans Helicopters. Pawan Hans has an agreement with Eurocopter for maintenance, repair and overhaul services in India to support the Dauphin-series rotorcraft, which can easily be extended to the Panther fleet.
Eurocopter EC 725: The EC 725 is derived from the proven Super Puma/Cougar family. It offers all-weather capability and heavy-lift capacity with a complete systems package. It has seen service in the French Army and French Air Force for combat SAR & Special Operations in Afghanistan and Libya wars with no losses. Major orders of the EC725 in recent years include the Brazilian armed forces for 50 units, the Royal Malaysian Air Force for 12 units, and the Mexican Army ordered six of these machines. The civilian version EC225 is also a reference for search & rescue missions in Asia: the Japan Coast Guard ordered 3 units last year; and China’s Ministry of Transport (Rescue & Salvage Bureau) has 2 EC225s delivered to them last year. It is also in service with the French Navy for SAR missions in the harsh environment of French Brittany in Atlantic Ocean with brilliant success in life safeguard operations.
Boeing CH-47F Chinook: The Chinook is the US Army’s premier heavy-lift helicopter for intra-theatre troop and cargo transport. The CH-47F helicopter features a newly designed, modernised airframe, a Rockwell Collins Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS) cockpit, and a BAE designed Digital Advanced Flight Control System (DAFCS). Boeing celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the Chinook in September last year. The US Army Special Operations Command operates MH-47E Chinooks, and is currently being equipped with the new MH-47G, which provides a unique capability for infiltration and exfiltration of special operations forces in a variety of situations and environments. The US Army will modernise 464 Chinooks to the CH-47F configuration, featuring a stronger fuselage for reduced vibration during flight, a 1553 data bus and digital mission management system. In addition, the aircraft will use more powerful Honeywell T55-GA-714A engines for improved lift performance in high-hot conditions. The CH-47F/MH-47G modernisation programme is now in full-rate production, and will ensure this tandem rotor medium-lift helicopter remains in the Army fleet at least through the 2030s.