Military purchases worth ₹7,965 crore cleared in Make-in-India push
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on Tuesday cleared the purchase of locally produced military hardware worth ₹7,965 crore, including light utility helicopters (LUH) for the army and the air force, fire control systems for the navy, super rapid gun mounts (SRGM) for warships, and the upgrade of Dornier aircraft for coastal surveillance, the Union defence ministry said.
DAC, headed by defence minister Rajnath Singh, accorded its acceptance of necessity (AoN) for 12 LUHs from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Lynx U2 fire control system from Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to boost the navy’s detection, tracking and engagement capabilities, and indigenous SRGMs from Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) to enable warships engage fast manoeuvring targets, officials said.
Under India’s defence procurement rules, AoN by the council is the first step towards buying military equipment.
“All the proposals are under Make-in-India with focus on design, development and manufacturing in the country... In further impetus to Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India campaign), a global procurement of naval guns has been foreclosed with the quantity added to the upgraded SRGMs manufactured by BHEL,” the ministry said in a statement.
The statement refers to an earlier plan of the Indian Navy to buy the Mk 45 gun system from the US --- it has now been shelved. In November 2019, the US cleared the sale of 13 Mk 45 anti-surface and anti-air naval gun systems, along with ammunition and related add-ons, to India for an estimated cost of $1 billion. The gun systems are made by BAE Systems.
“The SRGM was earlier to be imported from the US. But now this project will be given to BHEL to give a push to the Make-in-India drive. This will help save ₹3,000 crore,” an official said.
The government has taken several measures to boost self-reliance in the defence sector over the last two years. These include raising foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence manufacturing, creating a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware and notifying two lists of 209 defence items that cannot be imported in bans that will be progressively enforced from 2021 to 2025.
These items include airborne early warning and control systems, light combat aircraft, missile destroyers, ship-borne cruise missiles, long-range land attack cruise missiles, basic trainer aircraft, specified types of helicopters, and artillery guns.
Former army vice chief Lieutenant General AS Lamba (retd) said the indigenisation drive was finally coming of age with the government’s comprehensive approach towards self-reliance in the defence sector.
“We are now seeing a new trend wherein the Indian industry is making complete weapons and systems in the country, in contrast to the past when indigenisation was limited to components and sub-systems,” Lamba added.
LUH is an important project as it will eventually replace the army and the air force’s ageing fleets of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters whose safety record has been blemished by a string of crashes. Around 15 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters crashed during the last 10 years killing several pilots.
Chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, then a lieutenant general, survived a Cheetah crash in Dimapur on February 3, 2015.
The LUHs cleared by DAC are six each for the army and air force. HAL expects the army and the air force to place combined orders for at least 187 light helicopters in the coming years -- 126 for the army and 61 for the air force.
The design of the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters is more than 50 years old.
HT reported on October 7 that after wrapping up rigorous flight testing of prototype helicopters in challenging conditions, HAL has set August 2022 as the deadline for carrying out the maiden test flight of the first chopper in the LUH limited series production.
HAL is expected to deliver the first set of LUHs to the two services in two to three years of the signing of the contract. Subsequent orders will be executed at a faster pace as LUH production will also begin at HAL’s new helicopter factory in Tumakuru in Karnataka. The LUH’s first test flight will be carried out from the Tumakuru facility. The Bengaluru and Tumakuru facilities will be capable of rolling out 100 LUHs every year.
The LUH has proved its capabilities in multiple rounds of trials in extreme conditions in the northern sector, Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director-general, Centre for Air Power Studies, has previously said.
India is also looking at jointly building with Russia the Kamov-226T light helicopters in the country. The Kamovs are also expected to replace the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. However, the $1-billion programme, under which Russia will supply 60 helicopters in flyaway condition and the remaining 140 will be manufactured in India, is yet to kick off. The army, air force and navy together need around 500 light helicopters.