Big Indian Light Helicopter Buys Are Delayed Again
India’s twice-bid reconnaissance and surveillance helicopter (RSH) competition has been delayed again. An oversight committee is now scrutinizing the latest bids to inquire into allegations of improper conduct by an army officer during flight trials of the finalists. The Kamov Ka-226T and Eurocopter AS550C3 Fennec are competing for an Army and Air Force requirement for 197 helicopters.
“The committee will further investigate the analysis…we would like this to happen [soon],” Lt. Gen Amarjeet Singh Chabbewal, Chief of Staff Western Command for the Indian Army, told AIN. The RSH helicopters are intended to replace an aging fleet of Chetak (Aerospatiale SA316 Alouette III) and Cheetah (SA315B Alouette II) helicopters. Spares are now expensive and increasingly difficult to obtain. “We have neglected fleet sustainment…the wear and tear on these helicopters is extremely high,” added Chabbewal. But with the validities of the bids expiring this month, it is unlikely that any decision will be made soon, an MoD official said on condition of anonymity.
In 2007, Eurocopter’s AS550C3 emerged as the RSH winner against the Bell 407. But objections from Bell stalled a contract award. Subsequently, Bell did not participate in the 2008 rebid, citing its inability to comply with a 50-percent offset requirement. If India scraps the tender this time, it is likely Bell will participate again, AIN has learned.
Moreover, a second contract for 187 light utility helicopters (LUH) has also been delayed. Government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) is slated to provide the three-ton single-engine LUH. The company has selected a Turbomeca engine for the LUH, even though a contract has yet to be signed. “The LUH will have a glass cockpit and a composite airframe. Unlike the advanced light helicopter [ALH] on which we collaborated with MBB of Germany, the LUH is our own,” said M. Vijaya Kumar, general manager of HAL’s rotary-wing research and design center. The LUH will not now earn its initial operational clearance until 2017, another HAL official said.
Meanwhile, India’s Border Security Force (BSF) has ordered eight Mil Mi-17V5s, following the order for 80 of the Russian helicopters by the Indian Air Force. The first will be delivered late next year, and the BSF will use them along the Myanmar border, BSF director general Subhash Joshi told AIN.