Deep Connect

Between capabilities and ToT, Airbus Helicopters believes it has the best solution for navy’s NUH programme

Ghazala Wahab

Marignane, France: Taking advantage of the delivery of the last two AS565 MBe Panther helicopters to the Mexican Navy in early December, Airbus Helicopters invited select Indian journalists for an update on the new version of the Panther, which it is offering to the Indian Navy for its Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) programme. Incidentally, Mexican Navy, which had contracted for 10 Panthers, was the launch customer for this version of the helicopter.

Director, ‘Make in India’, Airbus Helicopters, Fabrice Cagnat

After hanging fire for nearly a year and half (more if one adds up the time the programme was first conceptualised), the navy finally issued the request for information for two types of helicopters, NUH and Naval Multi Role Helicopter (NMRH) in August 2017 under the Strategic Partnership model of the Defence Procurement Procedure-2016 (DPP). And on October 31, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved the Acceptance of Necessity (AON) for the 111 NUHs. According to the Request for Information (RFI), while 15 per cent helicopters will come in flyaway conditions, the rest will be made in India.

Amongst the expected roles of the NUH as listed in the RFI are ‘search and rescue, medical evacuation, communication duties, anti-piracy and anti-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and surveillance and targeting’. Going by the buzz within the naval circles, it appears that the helicopter programmes will move faster than others for the simple reason that several new warships are without adequate helicopter support, with the navy constantly doing a balancing act with the old warhorses, well past their prime.

Executive vice president, Global Business, Airbus Helicopters, Ben Bridge

In an interview to FORCE on the eve of the navy day, the chief of naval staff said, “The Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) is a basic ship-borne utility helicopter. The Naval Multi Role Helicopter (NMRH), on the other hand, would be a relatively larger aircraft with sophisticated weapons and sensors. Integration of several sensors and weapons in the NMRH might make this programme more challenging vis-à-vis the NUH. Therefore, NMRH may take a little longer than the NUH to materialise.” Later at his annual press conference on December 1, he told the media that the contract (for NUH) was expected to be signed in the first quarter of 2018.

From Airbus Helicopters’ perspective, this is the kind of music they had long been waiting to hear. In a briefing to the media team before the handing over ceremony of the Panther to the Mexican Navy, director, ‘Make in India’, Airbus Helicopter, Fabrice Cagnat said, “Panther is one of the references for naval helicopters in the world. Even the US Coast Guard operates them.” According to him, 100 countries have down-selected Panther for the naval role. “While it is not a big aircraft, it has big capabilities,” he said.

The twin-engine 4.5 tonne AS565 MBe Panther is a long-range multi-utility and multi-role helicopter that has future growth potential. In addition to a pilot and co-pilot, it is capable of carrying 10 fully-equipped troops. It can carry two torpedoes and can also integrate the next-Gen guided or intelligent torpedoes. It can also be fitted with dipping sonar, thereby turning it into an ASW platform.

However, for the Indian campaign, in addition to the capabilities, two other factors will determine which way the wind will blow: cost of the platform and transfer of technology (ToT). Probably in the same order, especially now when it appears that the government of India is once again falling back on the supposed ‘failsafe’ practice of L-1 (lowest one) for procurements.

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