India gears up to buy 111 naval choppers worth Rs 21,738 crore
The government’s defence acquisition council gave its go-ahead to the project at a time when the Navy is struggling to bridge capability gaps, and a majority of its 140 warships are operating without utility helicopters.india Updated: Oct 31, 2017 19:33 IST
India set the ball rolling for buying 111 naval utility helicopters (NUHs) on Tuesday, with the defence ministry giving its stamp of approval for a Rs 21,738-crore programme to replace the Navy’s outdated fleet of French-designed Chetak choppers.
The government’s defence acquisition council (DAC), headed by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, gave its go-ahead to the project at a time when the Navy is struggling to bridge capability gaps, and a majority of its 140 warships are operating without utility helicopters.
With the DAC according its ‘acceptance of necessity’ (AoN) to the critical project, the government has moved a step closer to releasing a global tender for the five-tonne class helicopters. US, European and Russian rivals are expected to compete for the lucrative deal by stitching up alliances with Indian firms under the government’s ‘strategic partnership’ model.
A South Block source said 16 of the choppers would be bought in flyaway condition from a foreign military contractor, and the remaining 95 will be built here in partnership with an Indian firm.
Even under the Make in India plan, the country’s arms procurement rules allow for direct purchase of weapons and systems from the foreign vendor in keeping with the ‘strategic partnership’ policy. It stipulates that “a minimum number of platforms, not exceeding 10-15% of the units being procured, may be manufactured on the premises of the original equipment manufacturer”.
Such choppers are used for several purposes, including search and rescue operations, medical evacuation, communication duties, anti-piracy and anti-terrorism operations, humanitarian assistance, surveillance and targeting.
The Navy had released two requests for information (RFIs) for 123 naval multi-role helicopters (NMRHs) and 111 NUHs this August. The multi-billion dollar NMRH programme to replace obsolete Westland Sea King helicopters is yet to come up for DAC approval.
The August RFI said that the NUHs being bought in flyaway condition should be supplied within five years of the contract being signed, and the remaining between five and 13 years of the contract under the “make category” (built in India).
The twin-engine helicopter, meant to be flown by two pilots, will have wheeled landing gear and blade-fold capability. India wants the choppers built in the country to have 40% indigenous content.
A few basic helicopters may be initially delivered to meet the Navy’s immediate training and search-and-rescue needs. They will be later upgraded to fulfil all requirements.