The NUH Saga
The Indian navy desperately needs 111 naval utility helicopters to replace its ageing fleet of vintage “chetak” helicopters from 1960s. The Indian navy operates two different type of helicopters other then the specialised role units. The heavier helicopters capable of carrying larger payload are called multi role helicopters while the smaller helicopters are called utility helicopter. Currently Navy currently operates Westland Sea King and the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopters as a multi role platform and Aérospatiale SA 316 Alouette III known as “Chetak” in india for the utlity roles.
The Indian Navy had acknowledged the receipt of eight responses to the Expression of Interest (EOI) that was floated in February last year. Navy then released a request of proposal on 22 August 2019. As per the request of proposal Indian navy requires
- 111 Naval utility helicopter (Approximately) – Yes it says “approximately”.
- Two flight simulators.
- Maintenance simulator.
- Infrastructure building.
- Associated shore support.
- Performance based logistics.
- Spare package.
- Weapons package.
- Sensor package
All developed under strategic partnership model.
Strategic partnership model:
After detailed consultation and discussion with the specialists from the industry and forces the government of India In May 2017 unveiled strategic partnership model. The brand-new procedure forms Chapter VII of the defence procurement procedure (DPP), the supervisory outline of manufacturing the military equipment in India. The ‘Strategic Partnership model’ enables the Ministry of Defense in India, to select an Indian private defence contractor to collaborate with a foreign intellectual property right owner or original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to set up a manufacturing plant in the country. The ministry hasn’t ruled out Defence PSUs from affiliating themselves with foreign equipment manufacturer under the new SP model.
Requirement of Indian Navy:
The Indian navy needs a helicopter capable of performing the following roles in day or night in any weather:
- Search and Rescue. (SAR)
- Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC).
- Communication Duties.
- Anti-Piracy and Anti-terrorism.
- Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).
- Surveillance and Targeting.
The Navy needs a helicopter to be a twin engine, twin pilot helicopter with a wheeled landing gear and “blade fold capability”. The RFP do not explicitly specify the need of “automatic” blade folding capabilities. This is where the entire debate starts.
The short-listed contenders (foreign equipment manufacturer) are:
- Airbus Helicopters
- H 145 M
- AS565 MBe Panther
- Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky
- Sikorsky S-76D
- Russian Helicopters
- Kamov KA226T
- * Lobbied by HAL to let HAL Dhruv to participate in the tender.
The Indian strategic partners are probably to be chosen from Mahindra Defence, Adani Defence, Larsen & Toubro, Kalyani Group, Tata Advanced Systems Ltd and Reliance Defence.
Let’s compare the contenders and understand the requirement of Indian navy based on that.
The Kamov KA-226 is a compact yet powerful, twin engine Russian utility helicopter. This helicopter offers a versatile interchangeable mission pod rather than a conventional cabin which enables the helicopter to perform vide verity of roles very easily.
Country of origin: – Russia
Indian partner: – HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited)
- The helicopter has a modular design, which gives it a unmatched flexibility.
- The Co-axial rotors help it with better stability at rough wind in high seas.
- The unit cost of the helicopter is lower than the competitors.
- The helicopter will offer more interoperability as army will also have this in their inventory.
- A Russian platform has an inherited problem of after sales.
- Current version does not offer automated folding of the blade; however, company seems to have developed one.
The helicopter is a twin-engine helicopter designed and manufactured by airbus. copter can carry up to 9 travellers along with two pilots. It can be equipped with wide variety of sensors and weapons to perform range roles required by the forces.
Country of origin: – France
Indian partner: – Mahindra defence
- Operated by over 18 countries hence high availability of spares due to global ecosystem.
- It’s a French platform and hence do not come under US sanctions.
- It just meets the requirement and is not a very advance platform in comparison with the others in NUH competition
- The platform also does not offer much scope of upgrade in future.
The platform is highly modified version of S-76A that first entered in production in 1982 and at that time the helicopter shattered all the records on range, climb, speed and ceiling. The S-76D took its first flight on February 7, 2009 and was certified on 12 October 2012.
Country of origin: – United States of America (USA)
Indian partner: – Tata defence
- Indian navy is in process of acquiring MH60R and already operates systems like P8I of American origin. This will allow the helicopter to seamlessly integrate in larger spectrum of weapons.
- Easy availability of spares.
- Higher unit cost.
- The system does not meet all the requirements in the RFP.
Airbus AS-565 Panther:
The AS565 MBe naval iteration of the Airbus’ Panther family of helicopters. The system is equipped with wide variety of sensors and weapons. Airbus AS-565 panther is a militarised version of Euro copter AS-365 Dauphin medium weight, multi-purpose twin engine helicopter.
Country of origin: – France
Indian partner: – Mahindra defence
- The system is the fastest in the lot.
- it uses composite tail rotor blades and airframe results in low maintenance time and cost.
- Meets all the requirements in the RFP.
- Higher cost
- Harbin Z-9 of china is a licence produced version of the helicopter.
The comparison of the two platform is always tricky and unfair, as Indian defence procurement process says “any system that meets the GSQR and costs least” will be selected. Same applies here and the need is really very urgent and thus needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
The Dhruv Saga:
The advance light helicopter manufactured by HAL has one problem that makes it navy to keep it out of the tender. The helicopter does not offer a foldable blade that can be folder “automatically”. The makers “HAL” say that Dhruv can have a modified rotor that can be folded manually and in RFP NAVY nowhere specified that it must be automatic. The small ship deck is a hazardous space to work and if the helicopter blades are to be folded manually in high sea that presents a serious threat to the crew.