Fresh 197 light RSH chopper bids in­vited


Will the In­dian Army and the In­dian Air Force (IAF) fi­nally get the light he­li­copters they so desperately need, to aug­ment and re­place their ob­so­les­cent fleet of Chee­tah and Chetak LUHs? After can­celling the re­con­nais­sance and surveil­lance he­li­copter (RSH) he­li­copter pro­cure­ment process dur­ing the fi­nal lap ear­lier this year, the process has been re­booted and of­fi­cially de­clared open. The re­quest for in­for­ma­tion (RFI), as re­ported by SP’s in Septem­ber, will be a ‘Buy & Make (In­dia)’ pro­cure­ment, with a cer­tain num­ber of he­li­copters built and sup­plied by the win­ning OEM in fly­away con­di­tion, with the re­main­ing num­ber built at a pro­duc­tion line in In­dia by an In­dian part­ner through li­censed trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy.

The RFI, re­leased on Oc­to­ber 31, en­vis­ages a far swifter move­ment through the mo­tions to make up for the huge de­lays and im­pact the two scrap­pings have had on the armed forces. This is made clear: “This RFI is be­ing is­sued with the aim of iden­ti­fy­ing prob­a­ble In­dian ven­dors (in­clud­ing an In­dian company form­ing joint ven­ture es­tab­lish­ing pro­duc­tion ar­range­ment with OEM) who can pro­vide the he­li­copters fol­lowed by li­censed pro­duc­tion/ in­dige­nous man­u­fac­ture in the coun­try.”

While the RFI does not in­di­cate any change in the num­ber of he­li­copters re­quired (133 for the Army and 64 for the IAF), in a break from the ear­lier re­quire­ment, it does not make a sin­gle en­gine plat­form com­pul­sory, in­stead invit­ing in­for­ma­tion from prospec­tive ven­dors about the en­gine con­fig­u­ra­tion of its fielded prod­uct. That in it­self widens the field of play con­sid­er­ably, though the largely sim­i­lar mis­sion pro­files and other pa­ram­e­ters re­strict it to prod­ucts that have at var­i­ous junc­tures shown in­ter­est in the com­pe­ti­tion. The set of mis­sions for the RSH plat­form in­clude: (a) Re­con­nais­sance and surveil­lance, in­clud­ing armed re­con­nais­sance; (b) Di­rec­tion of ar­tillery fire; (c) Carry small body of troops/quick re­ac­tion teams for spe­cial mis­sions; (d) Aerial pho­tog­ra­phy; (e) Scout role in con­junc­tion with at­tack he­li­copter; (f) air­borne for­ward air con­troller (FAC), if re­quired; (g) Ca­su­alty evac­u­a­tion; (h) NBC mon­i­tor­ing; (j) Plat­form for ESM, ECM and ECCM etc; (k) Pro­vide dy­namic re­sponse dur­ing aid to civil au­thor­i­ties.

While Air­bus He­li­copters (for­merly Euro­copter) and Kamov, the two fi­nal­ists in the last RSH ef­fort that was scrapped in Au­gust, have not con­firmed if they will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the fresh com­pe­ti­tion, it is likely they will – the sheer num­bers in the contest are hard to pass over even when seen in the per­spec­tive of the mis­giv­ings the ven­dors have had with lack of clar­ity, ar­bi­trary decision-mak­ing and last-minute sur­prises in the last two at­tempts in the RSH pro­cure­ment. Broadly speak­ing, tak­ing purely the tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments into view, the prospec­tive con­tenders for the fresh com­pe­ti­tion would re­boot old ex­clu­sions to now in­clude the AS 550 C3 Fen­nec from the Air­bus sta­ble, the Kamov Ka-226T Sergei from Rus­sia, a mil­i­tarised scout ver­sion of the AW119 Koala LUH from Agusta-West­land and a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the OH-58D Kiowa War­rior from US firm Bell He­li­copter.

The RFI broadly also sets out the pro­duc­tion plan for the new RSH as fol­lows: “It is en­vis­aged that ini­tial few quan­ti­ties of he­li­copters will be sup­plied in fully formed con­di­tion. Fur­ther man­u­fac­ture of he­li­copters by the ven­dor within the coun­try in keep­ing with the re­quire­ment of 30 per cent in­dige­nous con­tent is en­vis­aged within 3-4 years after the con­tract is signed. Ven­dor to in­di­cate specif­i­cally the ear­li­est time­frame within which it can meet this re­quire­ment. If not, what is the ear­li­est time­frame in which the ven­dor can com­mence de­liv­er­ing the he­li­copters man­u­fac­tured within the coun­try. Ven­dor to also in­di­cate as to what is the an­nual pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity it can achieve in keep­ing with the above re­quire­ment?”

Ven­dors have un­til Christ­mas to re­spond to the Army on what they plan to field for the com­pe­ti­tion. The Army and IAF al­ready have ex­ten­sive data on the Fen­nec, Sergei and of­fer­ings from Bell, which were demon­strated dur­ing RSH I. The new horse in the race could be the AW119 Koala, which is also to be fielded in the re­booted NUH pro­gramme. If in fact the new RSH pro­gramme in­deed keeps an open field for twin-en­gine he­li­copters, the light-twin AW119 could be al­lowed to com­pete.

All things con­sid­ered, a de­gree of fa­tigue has set in for the Army and IAF (the Navy’s plans for LUH re­place­ment are younger but no less ur­gent), that have grap­pled for just over a decade try­ing to get new light he­li­copters, com­ing tan­ta­lis­ingly close on two oc­ca­sions, only to see new equip­ment swiped from un­der their nose for a com­bi­na­tion of rea­sons. This time, the slow but steady nose-dive of RSH II made the end more painful, giv­ing the IAF and Army more time to plan their next move, but ul­ti­mately ham­strung as far as force ac­cre­tion is con­cerned. There is ev­ery hope that the ‘ur­gent’ theme of the RSH III re­ally in­tends to de­liver equip­ment quickly to the Army and IAF. There is not a mo­ment to lose.

Kamov he­li­copter

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