Indian Navy To Get indigenous Naval Utility Helicopter
According to defence sources, the Navy is looking to buy variants of the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) modified for ship-based operations to answer its long-pending request for Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH).
The tender for 111 NUH was previously completed under the Strategic Partnership (SP) route of the protocol, which was included in the third positive indigenisation list by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) last week.
According to defence sources, the Navy issued wide requirements to HAL in January for the acquisition of 60 utility helicopters based on the ALH for maritime operations, based on the recommendations of a joint study with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in October.
“HAL is preparing a thorough project report covering the helicopter configuration and overall cost, including performance-based logistics, which will be submitted to Service Headquarters and the Ministry of Defense soon,” two defence sources stated.
The Navy has been hunting for new utility helicopters for more than a decade, but no progress has been made.
The first deal
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) granted Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the acquisition of 111 NUH under the SP model in November 2018, marking the first deal under the ambitious strategy designed to encourage domestic private sector participation in defence manufacture. Following that, in February 2019, the Request for Expression of Interest (REoI) to Original Equipment Manufacturers and Strategic Partners was launched.
However, the process has been stalled since HAL entered the contest, proposing a wheeled landing gear variant of the ALH with modifications, according to authorities. Folding rotors were a critical need of the NUH in order for the helicopter to fit inside the ship hanger.
According to a defence source, the Navy and HAL conducted a joint study in October 2021 to maximise ALH’s potential for naval operations by reducing the empty weight by choosing light weight avionics and mission sensors, increasing payload capability up to 600 kg for deck operations, reducing stowage dimensions to meet requirements with foldable two segment blades, and modifying the upper control system and ASIST (Aircraft Ship Integrated Secure and Traverse) traversing interface for ship.
According to the official, the Navy issued broad requirements to HAL in January for the acquisition of 60 utility helicopters for maritime operations under the Buy-Indian IDDM (Indigenously Designed, Developed, and Manufactured) route of Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020, based on the recommendations in the joint study report. According to business insiders, HAL would submit the comprehensive project report very soon.
The Navy is slated to induct the first batch of three MH-60R Multi-Role Helicopters, 24 of which were contracted from the US, in June, marking the first major helicopter induction in decades. These are the successors to the Sea King 42/42A helicopters, which were retired in the 1990s.
The MoD, however, has suspended a contract to buy six Ka-31 early warning helicopters, as well as a case for six more P-8I long-range maritime patrol planes, during the review of all direct import transactions, sources said.
The NUH will replace the Chetak fleet, which is ageing and in desperate need of replacement. In addition to the Chetak, the Navy has updated Russian Kamov 28/31s, shore-based ALH Dhruvs, and aged Sea Kings, as well as six Sikorsky UH-3H helicopters.