For a Robust Navy

Acquisition of NMRHs and NUHs should be fast-tracked

Mihir Paul

While the Indian Navy witnessed a slew of long-pending acquisitions being fast-tracked in 2018, there are still some crucial procurement programmes that are lagging behind and need to be expedited at the earliest.

MH-60 Romeo multi-role helicopter deploying a sonobuoy

With China increasing its maritime activities in the Indo-Pacific region, an increased Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) has become a dominant factor driving planning and acquisition moves for the Indian Navy in recent years. Effective MDA is vital for maintaining maritime and coastal security. Now that Chinese submarines are making regular forays into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), keeping tabs on our littoral waters has become more important than ever. This further strengthens the argument to have effective reconnaissance and surveillance aerial assets in the navy’s inventory.

Just like the ever-growing technology-driven evolution of airborne and sea-borne assets, Maritime reconnaissance, too, has evolved over the years. It is no longer limited to simply surveillance and reconnaissance. Maritime reconnaissance now includes Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare, anti-ship warfare, and intelligence gathering.

According to former Flag Officer Naval Aviation, Rear Admiral Sudhir Pillai (retd), MDA is critical to naval forces. Towards this, rapid and accurate information gathering is important, and aircraft are central to this effort with the advantages afforded by height (increased radar and visual search horizon), speed (rapid and efficient search and patrol of large areas), and range (to cover large distances from coast or from forces operating at sea).

In terms of rotary-wing assets capable of performing surveillance and reconnaissance, the Indian Navy presently has depleting fleets of ageing SeaKing, Kamov 25/28, and Chetak helicopters. These assets have not only reached obsolescence but are also nearing the end of their service life which brings their replacements into question. The Indian Navy’s urgent requirement for newer Naval Multi-Role Helicopters (NMRHs) and Naval Utility Helicopters (NUHs) has been hanging fire for quite some time now. While the Indian Navy possesses assets like maritime patrol aircraft and patrolling vessels, the need for a robust fleet of NMRHs and NUHs continues to be felt.

According to Cmde Anil Jai Singh (retd), a helicopter’s fundamental advantage over a ship is that it’s highly mobile and can detect submarines at much longer ranges than ships. For this, we presently have the UH-3H Sea Kings and the Kamov 25/28 helicopters. Both are extremely outdated.

“The biggest gap in our navy’s capabilities is the lack of newer helicopters. Our fleet of MRHs is practically non-existent,” he said.

With less than 10 Sea King helicopters operational and many cannibalised for servicing the existing ones, the Indian Navy has been forced to sail its warships without helicopter support. Even the frontline destroyers have been frequently put to sea without integral helicopter support. MRHs and NUHs are critical operational necessities which have been ‘rain-checked’ for well over a decade now.

In an interview carried by FORCE last year, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba explained that both the NMRH and NUH programmes are extremely important for the navy as they ‘directly influence combat capability as well as fleet operations’. He further revealed that due to the larger size and technological sophistication of required MRHs as compared to the NUHs, the NRMH programme will take more time to materialise.

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