Leap of Faith

With digital designing, Russian Helicopters moves towards modern production techniques for Ka-226T

Ghazala Wahab

Ulan Ude | Moscow, Russia: Confident that the long-awaited contract for 200 Ka-226T helicopters would be signed with India in the first quarter of 2018, Russian Helicopters invited a group of international journalists, including four from India, to its facilities in Moscow and Ulan Ude (Siberia), which is home to Ulan Ude Aviation Plant (UUAP), one of the biggest helicopter manufacturing facilities in Russia in end-November.

CEO, Russian Helicopters, Andrei Boginsky

The press tour concluded at UUAP with a teleconference with the CEO of the Russian Helicopters Andrei Boginsky, in which he not only expressed optimism about the signing of the contract but also threw in his hat for the Indian Navy’s Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) programme. He said it will make sense for ‘Make in India’ if the navy considers Ka-226T for its 5-tonne utility helicopter requirement.

“Commonality of platforms will help India save money not only on the price of the helicopter but on life cycle costs too,” he added for good measure. According to him, all the outstanding issues regarding the contract were likely to be resolved in December 2017, paving the way for the commercial contract to be signed.

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 from UUAP in a flyaway condition; 40 will be assembled by the HAL-Russian Helicopters joint venture company and 100 would be manufactured entirely by the JV. While HAL holds 50.5 per cent in the JV, Russian share is 49.5 per cent. Under the IGA, the Russian partners are responsible for localisation of the helicopter production in India, ‘except for foreign produce (engine etc)’; in this case French. While the entire contract has to be executed over nine years from the date of the signing, a maintenance and repair facility (MRO) will have to be built in India within five years of the delivery of the first tranche.

The preliminary talks for the procurement of the helicopters started seven years ago. However, they picked up pace after the Modi government came to power and launched the ‘Make in India’ programme. As of now, Russian Helicopters insist that the programme will have minimum 40 per cent indigenous content.

According to the head of Ka-226T programme at Kamov Design Bureau, Dmitry Shvek, “The indigenous content may go beyond 40 per cent as the programme progresses depending upon how successful the JV is in locally producing the components that have gone into the making of the helicopter.”

Listing out the sequence of indigenous production, head designer, Kamov Design Bureau, Sergey Mikheyev said that there will be four stages of transferring production to India. First would be the transfer of the assembly line of the helicopters to India. This will be followed by organising the final stages of assembly at the JV’s facility. The third stage would be aggregating assembly components in India and finally, the full assembly of helicopters would commence in India by components supplied by Russia.

In this time-frame, it is expected that the JV would acquire enough know-how to start complete production with hand-holding. Russian Helicopters will also act as a bridge between Russian and possible Indian vendors who will be required to replicate the various parts and systems of the helicopter. Being a modular platform, Ka-226T will be able to adapt to newer components and remain flexible in terms roles.

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