Friday, September 7, 2012

India slips deadline on light utility verdict

News analysis
Defence Helicopter
By Neelam Mathews, New Delhi

Bids for India’s 197-aircraft Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopter (RSH) requirement may be in jeopardy, as deferrals to the project have resulted in a cost increase of 45% since 2007, when proposals were first evaluated. The helicopters, which would have cost less than $700 million back then, are now valued at over $1 billion. If delayed by another year, this could go up by 4-5%.

Rebidding and delaying the finalisation of contracts is not uncommon in India, where bureaucratic and procedural delays are the norm. This has been readily apparent in the RSH project for the Indian Army and air force, which was first issued in 2003 and then again in 2008. Now on its second iteration, RSH flight  rials were completed in 2010 by the two finalists – Russian Helicopters’ Kamov Ka-226T, powered by
the Turbomeca Arrius 2G1, and the Eurocopter AS550 C3 Fennec. Of the 197, the army will receive 133, while 64 will be operated by the air force.

Testing times

In addition, government-owned defence manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) – currently in the process of developing its own Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) based on the Advanced Light Helicopter, known as Dhruv, to replace the ageing Cheetah (Alouette II) and Chetak (Alouette III) fleet – has a mandate to supply an additional 187. The HAL LUH has a maximum take-off weight of 3.12t, is 11.5m long, 3.4m high, has a rotor diameter of 11.6m and a fuselage width of 1.6m. The single turboshaft engine will have dualchannel FADEC and back-up fuel control, as well as a range of 350km.

As the two final contenders await the opening of commercial bids, there is concern the decision is being  deliberately delayed, as the first flight of HAL’s LUH is scheduled for the end of 2012, with deliveries to start in 2015 – likely to coincide with those of the chosen foreign OEM.

In its defence, HAL has a better record in the arena of helicopters than fixed-wing projects, and is likely to commit to supplying the complete order of 384. Whether it can expand its present facility, which produces 36 Dhruvs a year, is another issue.

HAL has more than ten ongoing aerospace projects under development, including: the LUH; an order for 179 Light Combat Helicopters to finish flight testing by February 2013; 76 weaponised utility helicopters; 159 armed versions of the Dhruv known as ‘Rudra’; and 159 Dhruv Mk IIIs. While the army has said it intends to order 114 medium-lift multirole helicopters, design and development work is yet to begin.

Two months ago, Defence Minister AK Antony, replying to a question in Parliament, confirmed that while the procurement process for the helicopters was ongoing, ‘after going through everything, if anything goes wrong we will again cancel it’.

While earlier issues of engine certification are now cleared up, an official told Defence Helicopter on condition of anonymity that Eurocopter was unable to demonstrate casevac with a second stretcher. With Russia slowly losing its dominant defence market share in India – a decade ago, it held more than 80% – there are signs it might win this opportunity.

An overstretched HAL, according to one defence analyst, may ask for a transfer of technology for the
Kamov Ka-226T that has a Turbomeca engine. Sister company Snecma is presently working on an engine for India’s Light Combat Aircraft.

Trouble ahead?

Earlier this year, Eurocopter’s note to the Indian Army chief quoted in a national daily said: ‘We take this opportunity to express our concern regarding the time frame for the very important programme, for which the RfP was issued in July 2008… The technical evaluation process has now taken over 38 months and has not yet been concluded due to reasons which are unknown to us.’ It is understood that a reply to the letter
has yet to be sent.

Eurocopter had emerged as the lowest bidder in 2007 against the Bell 407 – Kamov had been disqualified by then. Meanwhile, at the start of August an RfP was issued for 56 naval utility helicopters, which will be configured for SAR, ASW and surveillance operations.


  1. Very interesting wrtite-up! Well Done! However - a few corrections: (1) Cost increase of 197 RSH is not 45%. Increase in INR:USD has had a significant impact but certainly not 45%. Moreover, earlier requirement was less than 197. (2) The RSH competition for 197 platforms (137 for Army and 60 for IAF) originally had 3 bidders; Agusta A119, Kamov Ka226 and Eurocopter EC550. The latter 2 are left after Agusta goofed-up by fielding a machine with a limited-clearance experimental engine. The earlier cancelled RfP for same requirement, by different name - LUH - did not have Eurocopter as lowest bidder in 2007. Bell was disqualified in Trials for insignificant reasons - and Eurocopter was announced resultant-single-vendor and invited for PNC/CNC. In the present ongoing RSH RfP - Bell did not bid due to our mockery of transparent, fair and urgently needed selection process - which eventually however led to present retender since Eurocopter had indulged in malpractices - no-one pursued the matter at MoD however. (3) In the present Ka226 Vs EC550 battle - both appear highly competent; with Ka226 offering unique advantages of safety due to twin-engine & lack-of-tail-rotor, as well as larger payload capacity and cabin-volume. It is however, clear both are matching per specs; while EC550 due to single-engine is bound to be L1; unless the Russians knock-off 1 engine cost towards either charity OR long-term maintenance-charge amortizations. (4) HAL's 187 LUH will fly by mid-2014 provided HAL stops playing god in the engine selection process - which is nowhere near completion. Maybe sticking to the Turbomecca Shakti is our best bet, since they are on the ALH as well - hence easier to maintain common inventory, though monopoly is ill-advised too. LUH will not be certified before mid-2015. Hence, definitely no supplies, 187 or 384 numbers, can start before mid-2016/17...this is all theoretical, as HAL Helicopter Complex has a glorious history of mocking Armed Forces needs of timely deliveries or Quality. Incidentally, HAL makes nowhere close to their stated dream figure of 36 ALH/yr!!(5) If the lobbyists and vendors stop toying with national-interests - maybe we wouldn't need to blame politico-bureacratic apathy towards the security needs and battle-preparedness of the Forces!!? Mr.Anthony however, has no choice but to say what he did. (6) Regarding LCH - only 65 are on order from IAF. There have been opensource discussions of 114 LCH for Army though - but no references anywhere to 114 mediumlift multirole! The Army however has no clearance for an Attack-Helicopter (AH), thanks to politics and turf-war by IAF!! Strange that it is the IAF that doesn't want the Army to have an AH - and not the Pakistani's or Chinese, who must be laughing at the brotherhood in our Forces! Incidentally, across the globe, AH are assets of their respective Armies and not Airforces! Reason: AH are tank-killers and Armored, Infantry, Artillery fire-support - the IAF simply doesn't understand the land-battle doctrine - hence, never owners of AH, except in India. (7) The Army presently has no approval for mediumlift multirole helicopters. The IAF will certainly ensure this status, of No-Mediumlift or AH for Army, continues until the next Kargil - which will expose yet again IAF apathy towards Army need-for-speed and coverfire for soldiers on ground. (8) HAL needs to wake-up to the massive helicopter market in the IAF, Navy and Army. Their lack of sincerity, discipline and quality-consiousness - will be India's undoing!