Indian Light Helicopter Requirements Still Clouded
Indian light helicopter requirements remain subject to a bureaucratic procurement process. The program to acquire 197 reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters (RSH) is close to being scrapped, but Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) has inked a contract for 187 light utility helicopters (LUH). HAL is also proposing the LUH for a new Indian Navy requirement. Meanwhile, HAL continues to develop its light combat helicopter (LCH), which first flew in March 2010.
The RSH program was supposed to replace 230 aging Chetaks (Aerospatiale SA316 Alouette III) and Cheetahs (SE316B Alouette II). The single-engine Eurocopter AS550C3 and twin-engine Kamov Ka-226T were finalists. But their bids are said to be non-compliant on such issues as the climb rate of the Kamov and the lack of dual-pilot provision in the Eurocopter (moved to make way for the evacuation stretcher). Indian air force chief of staff ACM N.A.K. Browne recently told AIN, “[The decision] will take time.” But the delay will serve the interest of government-owned HAL, which has now frozen the design of the twin-engine LUH that it is developing from its advanced light helicopter (ALH).
Last November, HAL opened commercial bids for 240 engines (plus 240 for offsets) for the LUH. The Turbomeca Ardiden 1H1, offered in the form of the 1U variant already certified in India as the Shakti, was the lowest-cost engine. LHTEC, the joint venture between Honeywell and Rolls-Royce, offered the CTS800 for one-third more. But the engine contract has not yet been awarded.
HAL has already bid its LUH for the Indian Navy’s requirement for 56 four-seat twin-engine helicopters to replace its fleet of HAL Chetak license-built AlouetteIIIs. The bid requires anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability, including a light torpedo or depth charge, and external mounts for 12.7-mm machine guns or two rocket launchers. Missions to be undertaken by the new LUH fleet would include search-and-rescue; casualty evacuation; sling loads; limited observation and surveillance; and anti-terrorism/anti-piracy missions with small arms. The bid states that the helicopter should be able to operate in adverse weather by day and night from small decks, as well as from the larger decks of aircraft carriers.
The two technology demonstrators of HAL’s twin-engine LCH were on display at Aero India. These light combat helicopters have now logged 170 flights. They have Shakti engines with Fadec, an electronic warfare suite from Saab and armaments that include a 20-mm turret twin-barrel gun, MBDA air-to-air missiles, Helina anti-tank missiles, cluster bombs and rocket pods. The LCH was developed to meet the requirements of the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army, which have ordered 62 and 114, respectively. “We are targeting September 2014 for the [initial operating capability],” said HAL chairman R.K. Tyagi.