Helicopter acquisition process should be speeded up to meet the shortfall and bring in latest technology
The 71st Republic Day celebrations on 26 January 2020 witnessed the newly-inducted attack helicopter Apache and transport chopper Chinook make their maiden flight for the R-Day flypast.
While the audience witnessed the might of India’s air power, it cannot be forgotten how the helicopter industry is seriously in need of modernisation. The Indian armed forces are still heavily dependent on vintage flying machines by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) such as Chetak and Cheetah of which there seems to be no replacement in sight.
The ageing Cheetah and Chetak Light Utility Helicopters are based on the Fifties designed Alouette Aérospatiale 315B Lama of France. So, it’s time that these ageing machines were replaced.
Till that happens, here is a list of helicopters that the Indian Army Aviation and the Indian Naval Aviation possess or are in the process of acquiring/inducting in the immediate future to give a major boost to its tactical fighting capabilities.
Boeing’s AH-64E Apache: India and China are the world’s largest military helicopter market but what is surprising is that until very recently, India did not possess a suitable attack helicopter in its inventory.
Much is already being said and written about Boeing’s AH-64E Apache helicopters. India on 3 September 2019 became the 16th country to procure the Apache when the Indian Air Force (IAF) inducted eight of them at the Pathankot Air Base. The Indian Army will procure six Apaches at a cost of Rs 4,168 crore and these would be given to a unit (Strike Corps) on the western borders.
“Six Army Apache attack choppers would be given to an army unit on the western borders from where there is a greater threat from armoured columns,” said Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane in his first media interaction.
“We can’t get anything better than the latest Apache. 64E is an upgrade and the latest state-of-the-art asset that we (the Indian Army) are adopting. We are getting what the US Army flies currently,” said Lt Gen. Bali Pawar (retired).
The AH-64 Apache is the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopter with the latest technology insertions. It is the only available combat helicopter with a spectrum of capabilities for virtually any mission requirement, including greater thrust and lift, joint digital operability, improved survivability and cognitive decision aiding.
The IAF will operate a fleet of 22 Apaches by the end of 2020.
In response to ease in absorption of technology, Lt Gen. Pawar pointed out, “We absolutely have no issues revolving around it. We have very capable test pilots and test engineers. There is no problem in handling technology.”
A major component of the Apache attack helicopters, its fuselage, for the Indian Army will be made indigenously at the Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL) facility in Hyderabad. With all said and done, there is no information available by when will the Apache be ready for the Indian Army.
Russian Ka-226T: Russian Ka-226T helicopters, which will be procured by the Indian Army, will substitute Cheetah and Chetak Light Utility Helicopters and are meant for high altitude, surveillance and logistics.
When asked about the number of helicopters the Army Aviation is short of, Lt Gen. Pawar (retd) said, “It is not about shortage. We need replacements. Ka-226T was supposed to replace Cheetah and Chetak but it has not happened till now.”
India signed the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with Russian Helicopters and Rosoboronexport in October 2016 on the side-lines of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Goa for the procurement of 200 Ka-226T helicopters in the ratio of 60:40:100, of which 60 are to be supplied to India in a flyaway condition; 40 will be assembled by the HAL-Russian Helicopters joint venture and 100 would be manufactured entirely by the joint venture.
Even after four years, Moscow and New Delhi have still not sealed the contract. Issues on cost price and transfer of technology (ToT) are apparently acting as encumbrances and preventing the contract to move forward, as Lt Gen. Pawar (retd) pointed out.
However, Russian deputy chief of mission Roman Babushkin said a contract will shortly be finalised for joint production of Kamov light-weight multi-role military helicopters for India. The latest development on this agreement is that India and Moscow have concluded price talks for 200 Kamov copters reportedly.
HAL-built RUDRA: This is a weaponised version of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) (Dhruv). The Indian Army plans to equip its Army Aviation Corps with a total of 60 helicopters, forming six squadrons.
“The Indian Army possesses 30-40 of these (HAL RUDRA) and another 20-30 are required. It is an ongoing process,” said Lt Gen. Pawar (retd).
The first HAL Rudra helicopter was delivered to the Indian Army during Aero India 2013. It also happens to be the first armed helicopter which is being produced indigenously.
Incorporating a conventional design, RUDRA can carry a payload of 2,600 kg and can be deployed in a wide range of missions, including reconnaissance, troop transport, anti-tank warfare and close air support.
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