INDIA’S HOMEGROWN ALH SETBACK
By Bulbul Singh
15 Jul 09. India’s home-grown Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) has received a major setback with the latest report of the Indian auditing agency stating that the Indian Army bought 40 helicopters with technical flaws. The home-grown choppers are unable to fly beyond 5000 meters, says the report.
The latest report of India’s autonomous auditing agency, Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) submitted to Parliament on July 10th 2009, says the Indian Army inducted 40 ALHs – at a cost of about $356 million – which, due to technical shortcomings, cannot fly above 5,000 meters. The ALH had been designed for the Army and Indian Air Force by state-owned
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to fly up to 20,000 feet.
The report says even the upgraded ALH, powered by a high thrust engine, has not been delivered to the Indian defence forces, forcing them to rely on aging Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. The CAG report cautions “Failure of the army to acquire suitable ALHs timely has led to considerable delay in de-induction of old fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which may impact operational preparedness of the army adversely, especially in high altitude areas in forward locations.”
The Indian defence ministry cleared the purchase of 105 ALH helicopters in 2007 (in addition to the 40 in operation) provided that these new helicopters are upgraded with the newly-developed Shakti engine which has a higher thrust.
The Report quotes a senior HAL official as saying that, ’Even the Shakti engine has some technical problems.’ As such, it is not sure whether the 105 LAH will be ‘without the technical faults’ says the report.‘Army Aviation (Maintenance Advisory Group) at HAL Bangalore stated in September 2008 that Shakti engine under development had deficiency in power and necessary improvements were underway. Therefore, it is not yet certain whether another 105 ALH ordered in December 2007 would be devoid of shortcomings and meet the Army’s requirement,’ says the CAG report.
In 2008, Chile rejected India’s Advanced Light Helicopter, (ALH) in favor of 12 Bell-412 helicopters at a cost of over $120 million from Bell, rejecting the ALH.
An Indian Air Force official said, “The rejection of ALH suggests that the home-grown helicopter needs to be upgraded at the earliest, as the selected Bell 412 is almost 15 years old.”
“HAL had projected export orders of around 120 ALHs in the next 10 years, but with the latest report, it is doubtful if the export orders will ever result.” said sources in the Indian defence forces.
The ALH has been sold in small numbers to Nepal, Peru, Ecuador, Turkey and talks are on for the sale to Malaysia.
“The Indian Army has to rely on the homemade ALH for movement of troops and logistics in operational areas, including in the extreme weather conditions of the Siachen Glacier because of shortages of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters and delays in replacement of these helicopters,” said an Indian Army official.
India is on a hunt in the international market for the purchase of 197 multi-utility helicopters to replace the Cheetah and Chetak.
The CAG Report details how the qualitative requirements of the Indian defence forces had been watered down to facilitate HAL from the beginning. The Report said the government approved the project in 1984 for design and development of ALH by HAL in collaboration with M/s Turbomeca, France, based on Qualitative Requirements (QRs) of the Air Force.
The project was completed in June 2001 and in September 1995, the
Army projected a requirement of 99 helicopters to be inducted by 2007 which was later scaled down to 40. The ALH was not able to fly above
5000 metres, though the Army’s requirement stipulated up to 6,500 metres
The deficiency was on account of the engines and its vibration level was not within the acceptable limits. Despite the shortcomings, four
ALHs were acc