To meet its long-pending requirement of Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), the Navy is looking to procure variants of the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) modified for ship-based operations, according to defence sources.
The tender for 111 NUH was earlier being processed through the Strategic Partnership (SP) route of the procedure which last week was included by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the third positive indigenisation list.
Based on the suggestions of a joint study with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) last October, the Navy has issued its broad requirements to HAL in January for acquisition of 60 utility helicopters based on the ALH for maritime operations, defence sources said.
“The detailed project report covering the helicopter configuration and the overall cost including performance based logistics is under preparation by HAL, which will be submitted to Service Headquarters and MoD shortly,” two defence sources confirmed.
The Navy has been looking to procure new utility helicopters for well over a decade but the attempts did not make progress.
In November 2018, Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) accorded Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for procurement of 111 NUH under the SP model, the first deal to be processed under the ambitious model meant to promote domestic private sector participating in defence manufacturing. Subsequently, the Request for Expression of Interest (REoI) to Original Equipment Manufacturers and Strategic Partners were issued in February 2019.
However, the process has since been held up as HAL jumped into the fray proposing wheeled landing gear variant of ALH with adaptations, officials said. A key requirement of the NUH was folding rotors for the helicopter to be able to fit into the ship hanger.
A defence source explained that in October 2021, the Navy and HAL carried out a joint study to exploit ALH to maximum potential for naval operations by optimising it to 5.7 tonnes, reducing the empty weight by choice of light weight avionics and mission sensors, higher payload capability upto 600 kg for deck operations, reduced stowage dimensions to meet requirement with foldable two segment blades and modified upper control system and ASIST (Aircraft Ship Integrated Secure and Traverse) traversing interface for ship deck.
The official added that based on the suggestions in the joint study report, the Navy has issued its broad requirements to HAL in January for acquisition of 60 utility helicopters for maritime operations as per Buy-Indian IDDM (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured) route of Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020. HAL would submit the detailed project report very soon, the company sources said.
In the first major helicopter induction in decades, the Navy is set to induct the first batch of three MH-60R Multi-Role Helicopters, 24 of which were contracted from the US, this June. These are a replacement of the Sea King 42/42A helicopters which have been phased out in the 1990s.
However, a contract to procure six Ka-31 early warning helicopters which was in advanced stages as well as the case for six more P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft have been deferred by the MoD during the review of all direct import deals, officials stated.
The NUH will replace the ageing Chetak fleet in service in urgent need of replacement. In addition to the Chetak, the Navy operates Russian Kamov 28/31s which have been upgraded, shore based ALH Dhruvs and ageing Sea Kings and six Sikorsky UH-3Hs.