Acquisitions on the Anvil

Indian Navy is all set to get new MRHs and NUHs to strengthen its helicopter fleet

Mihir Paul

With procurement efforts from the ministry of defence (MoD) suddenly picking up speed this year, the Indian Navy, by default, will be an eager recipient of a slew of critical acquisitions. From the 24 multi-role helicopters (MRH) to the 111 naval utility helicopters (NUH), the Indian Navy’s urgent requirements seem to have been kept in mind in this year’s acquisition moves.


Starting with the requirement for multi-role carrier-based fighters (MRCBF) to serve aboard the upcoming ‘Make in India’ carriers, INS Vikrant and INS Vishal, in early January 2017, a Request for Information (RFI) was floated by the MoD for 57 MRCBF. At present, the Indian Navy has 45 such multi-role carrier-based MiG-29Ks for operations from INS Vikramaditya and the under-construction INS Vikrant. The proposed procurement for the 57 MRCBFs came after almost 10 years when the Indian Navy had last acquired MiG-29Ks from Russia. The RFI followed from the news that LCA Tejas was no longer being considered for Indigenous Aircraft Carrier I (IAC I) since its naval version couldn’t operate from deck. The RFI specified that it needed the aircraft to be capable of day and night operations, all-weather multi-role deck-based capacities, air-to-surface operations, reconnaissance and electronic warfare from Indian aircraft carriers.

The government is also looking to have these MRCBFs manufactured in India as stated in the RFI. Among other major specifications, the RFI said the jet should be capable of Short Take Off Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) and Catapult Take Off Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR). INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant have STOBAR facility, wherein the jets take off from the flight deck made like a ski slope. The third carrier, INS Vishal, is likely to have CATOBAR. The four carrier-based fighters being considered for this procurement are Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet, Saab’s Sea Gripen, MiG-29K and Dassault’s Rafale (naval version). These original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are currently being considered for the upcoming Request for Proposal (RFP) that was supposed to be issued this year. While the RFI didn’t specify whether the navy wanted a single-engine or twin-engine MRCBF, given the expanded roles and capabilities required, it will most likely be a medium-to-heavy, twin-engine one.

The MoD, on November 13, issued a Letter of Request (LOR) to the United States Department of Defence for procuring 24 naval multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters. The move to acquire the critically required ASW capable helicopters followed from the MoD’s issuance of an ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ (AON) for the same on August 25. The Rs 13,500 crore deal for acquiring 24 MH-60Rs is a government to government deal executed under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, which is expected to be inked within a year. The government had issued a similar RFI for acquiring MRHs back in 2011 and 2013 as well.

In a previous iteration of the MRH contract, the Indian Navy had inclined towards the Sikorsky S-70B MRH. But with Lockheed Martin’s acquisition of Sikorsky and the expanded requirement in mind, the S-70 Bravo fell off the table, making way for the more capable MH-60 Romeo and the number pushed up to 24. The Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky MH-60R, an anti-ship anti-submarine multi-role helicopter, is supposed to replace the ageing Sea King and Kamov-28 fleet, most of which are not even operational as of date. The induction of these heavy-duty choppers, expected around 2020-2024, will definitely come as a shot in the arm for the Indian Navy.

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