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OCTOBER 2014 ISSUE

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Force Magazine

Smooth Chopper Ride
Boeing’s Apache and Chinook helicopter programmes are almost ready to join the IAF
 

By Dilip Kumar Mekala

There was a time, not so long ago, when aircraft in the Indian Air Force (IAF) hangars - heavy-lift, rotary wing and fighter jets - were mostly Russian platforms. But now, the times are changing, and it seems like the air force is inclined more to the American platforms, at least for its transport and helicopter fleet. Presently, the most awaited are the Apache AH-64E attack helicopter and Chinook CH-47F heavy lift helicopter — both manufactured by the US defence major, Boeing. Interestingly, Apache and Chinook had emerged as winners after defeating their Russian opponents Mi-28N and Mi-26T2 respectively in the competition and will be replacing the existing Mi-25/35 and Mi-26 fleet of the IAF.

Few days after the defence ministry announced its decision in 2012 to choose Chinook for its heavy lift requirements, this correspondent was approached by a Russian journalist who anxiously asked, “How can Chinook be the L-1 (the lowest bid)? In the international market, it is twice as expensive as its competitor Mi-26T2”. His newspaper editors had asked him to solve that conundrum. That was the second competition in a row (after Apache) where a Russian bid had lost to an American company despite the apparent low costs per helicopter. “Is India trying to make up for the MMRCA gaffe where the US firms were sent out of the competition in the first round itself?” he speculated.

But speculations apart, the decision to arrive at the L-1 is not solely based on the price of the equipment off-the-shelf; the government takes many other variables into consideration. For example, the recent developments in the defence ministry indicated that the life cycle cost (LCC) will be a part of L-1 negotiations in future deals. This issue was raised during former defence minister A.K. Antony’s tenure which questioned his decision to pick Dassault Rafale as the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the IAF. Eurofighter had raised objections claiming that Typhoon could be a cheaper option if LCC was taken into consideration. There are also other important factors such as offset obligations, technology transfer, etc in determining L-1.

In the case of Apache helicopters, the US proposal is a mix of Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) and Foreign Military Sales (FMS). The US government sweetened the deal with a long list of technology and support as a part of the government-to-government FMS. Even though Apache AH-64D Block III helicopters competed as a part of the DCS, the FMS deal looked irresistible to the Indian government. “If the Government of India selects the Boeing-US Army proposal, then it will request a possible sale of 50 T700-GE-701D engines, 12 AN/APG-78 fire control radars, 12 AN/APR-48A radar frequency interferometers, 812 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles, 542 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire II missiles, 245 Stinger Block I-92H missiles, and 23 modernised target acquisition designation sight/pilot night vision sensors, rockets, training and dummy missiles, 30mm ammunition, transponders, simulators, global positioning system/inertial navigation systems, communication equipment, spare and repair parts; tools and test equipment, support equipment, repair and return support, personnel training and training equipment; publications and technical documentation, US government and contractor engineering and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistics support to be provided in conjunction with a proposed direct commercial sale of 22 AH-64D Block III Apache Helicopters”, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency stated in December 2010. All these technologies are part of the current deal for the attack helicopters. The direct commercial sale portion of the contract primarily consists of the aircraft (less engines/sensors), logistic support, spares and services.

Apache-Chinook


 
 
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