Russia to revamp rotorcraft strategy in India
Once a dominant force in the Indian military helicopter space, Russia is a dwindling force now. With a series of crucial loss in prestigious rotorcraft competitions in India, SP’s M.A.I. has learnt that Russian Helicopters JSC, the umbrella company that markets Russian-built helicopters, has decided to revamp its strategy and will shortly be brainstorming to roll out new plans as far as the Indian market is concerned. Over the last decade, Russia has managed to shore up orders for Mi-17V5s: a $1.3-billion order for 80 helicopters in 2008—36 of which have been delivered so far—a recent order for 12 more Mi-17V5s (three in VVIP configuration and 9 for the Indian Coast Guard) and is expecting a follow-on order for 59 more such helicopters shortly from the IAF. The IAF operates roughly 150-160 Mi-17s and Mi-8s. Next year, the IAF will retire its entire fleet of Mi-8 helicopters, which have reached the end of their technical life.
On the other hand, Russia has lost a slew of deals. In October last year, the Russian Mi-28NE Night Hunter and Mi-26T2 lost crucial IAF attack helicopter and heavy-lift helicopter competitions to Boeing’s AH-64D Apache Block III and CH-47F Chinook respectively. The country’s Ka-226T Sergei, currently in a pitched battle against the Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fennec for the 197 reconnaissance and surveillance helicopter (RSH) competition, could be disappointed given that the procurement is reportedly in a state of indefinite drift, with a decision unlikely anytime soon.
RusHeliCo’s new strategy will include expanding into the civil sector in a big way. Part of this includes pitching its platforms to offshore operators in the energy sector, a market currently dominated by Russia’s competitors including AgustaWestland, Eurocopter and Sikorsky. “We are involved in negotiations with them. Our helicopters operate very well in harsh climates serving energy operators in our home country,” Russian Helicopters HCS Chief Dmitry Petrov said at the Aero India show in February.
The focus of this initiative will be the upgraded civil medium Mi-171A2, the latest version of the Mi-8/17 series. “The Mi-171A2 combines the best performance of its legendary predecessors with leading-edge technologies. Almost 200 Mi-8/17s operate in India, and demand for these helicopters remains strong. Russian Helicopters recently signed another contract for Mi-17V5 helicopters with the Indian Air Force; the contract is expected to be fulfilled in 2013,” says the company. Signs of commitment towards the new strategy are already showing.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India in December 2012, Russian Helicopters, and Elcom Systems Private Limited, part of the Indian investment conglomerate SUN Group, entered into an agreement to set up a modern manufacturing facility in India to produce Kamov and Mi-brand helicopters. “The joint venture will have the capacity to produce key helicopter units and carry out final assembly of the machines as well as engage in ground and flight testing. It is expected that the enterprise will start with production of components for the multi-role Ka-226T helicopter. The enterprise will serve as an industrial base for high-tech Russian rotorcraft products in India,” the company has stated. “India is a traditional partner of Russian Helicopters in terms of helicopter deliveries. The creation of a joint Russian-Indian enterprise marks a new stage and also a logical continuation of our joint efforts in light of the growing demand for Russian helicopter models,” said Dmitry Petrov, CEO of Russian Helicopters.
Apart from the civil strategy, Russian Helicopters plans to remain on the sidelines of the current Indian competitions, in case New Delhi decides otherwise.