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By Bulbul Singh

25 Jul 12. India will now buy 75 multi-role helicopters for its Navy through open competition from the global market, reversing its earlier decision to club purchase of additional helicopters with the ongoing purchase programme of the Indian Navy to buy 16 helicopters. The Indian defence ministry has cancelled its earlier decision to give the additional order of 75 helicopters to the winner of the running tender in which NH90 of NH Industries and America’s Sikorsky’s S-70B are locked in competition. A fresh tender will now be floated in the next two-to-three months for the purchase of the additional 75 multi-role helicopters apart from the ongoing purchase programme of the 16 multi-role helicopters, which is in the final stages of finalization after the flight trials have been completed. America’s Sikorsky is the front runner in the programme in which the Indian Navy is buying 16 multi-role helicopters on off-the shelf basis.

The decision to float a fresh tender worth $4 billion follows the insistence of license production and transfer of technology of the multirole helicopters. The tender will be in the Buy and Make category. Analysts here are sceptical if major defence majors will get involved in this programme to part with their technology. The multirole helicopters will be needed to replace the aging Sea King helicopters of the 1980 vintage, majority of which are grounded due to old age and shortage of spares. The helicopters will also be used in limited intelligence gathering, rescue and search casualty evacuation and surveillance roles. Apart from surveillance role the Multirole helicopters will have the capability for amphibious assaults. The Indian Navy needs the multi role helicopters to replace its aging Sea King helicopters inducted in the 80’s. The fleet strength of the Sea King helicopters has reduced from 40-odd Sea King choppers to around 20 helicopters due to aging and need for repair and overhaul.

The Sea Kings were received from Westland Helicopters but fell into disrepair when the U.S. imposed military sanctions in 1998 which resulted in the stoppage of supplies of essential spares for their upkeep. The Indian Navy then attempted to obtain some Sea King spares from local industry sources, including components for gearboxes, rotor systems, sonar systems and electronics items for avionics. However, these fell short of reliability requirements and led to some limitations in the anti-submarine warfare operations.


Meanwhile the fate of the light utility helicopter tender is likely to be decided in the next one to two months after Indian defence Minister A K Antony asked his officials last week to speed up the process. The tender was earlier speculated to be cancelled amidst the controversy. The purchase programme for 197 helicopters for Indian Army and Indian Air Force is stuck after the flight trial stage amidst allegations and counter allegations that both Kamov and Eurocopter could not fully meet the technical requirements. In the purchase tender worth $2 billion, which in itself was a re-bid tender issued in early 2010 after the earlier tender had to be quashed, Russia’s Kamov is pitched against the AS-550 from Eurocopter. The Indian Air Force and Indian Army need the Light Utility Helicopters to replace the aging Cheetah and Chetaks, which are currently being used to ferry troops and ration to battlefield locations on higher reaches. The homemade Light Utility Helicopter is in design and development stage is lined up for production not earlier than 2016. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has got a firm order to manufacture 187 Light Utility Helicopters. Even the homemade Light Utility Helicopter which is under development at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is behind schedule.

The tender for the purchase of 22 attack helicopters at a cost of over $800 million has been finalized

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