Kamov He­li­copters – Fi­nally through?

SP's MAI - - AEROSPACE VIEWPOINT - LT GEN­ERAL P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD) The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

In March 2017, there were re­ports in me­dia that the In­doRus­sian Kamov he­li­copter deal had hit a hur­dle, pric­ing and tech­nol­ogy trans­fer be­ing main is­sues. The news go­ing round was that In­dia and Rus­sia were hav­ing a dis­agree­ment over the joint pro­duc­tion of Kamov 226T light-util­ity he­li­copter that was an­nounced as the first ma­jor ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­ject some five months ago. Another rea­son quoted was that Rus­sia was yet to give ap­proval for the pro­ject while re­lated tech­nol­ogy trans­fers ‘through a pri­vate In­dian part­ner’ were the two stum­bling blocks.

It may be re­called that in De­cem­ber 2015 it was an­nounced that Kamov 226T will be copter of choice for ‘Make in In­dia,’ In­dia and Rus­sia hav­ing inked the in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal agree­ment for the light util­ity he­li­copter. Dur­ing the meet­ing be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Pres­i­dent Putin at Goa in 2016, the share­hold­ers pact for the joint ven­ture to man­u­fac­ture the Ka-226T he­li­copters in In­dia was signed; a pri­vate part­ner was part of this in­ter-govern­ment agree­ment. Rus­sia al­ready had the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Limited (HAL) as the In­dian part­ner, but the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) is look­ing to have pri­vate sec­tor In­dian in­vestors to share a part of the con­tract that In­dia has to ex­e­cute un­der a joint ven­ture with Moscow. So while price ne­go­ti­a­tions are a done thing, the de­lay in nom­i­nat­ing the pri­vate In­dian com­pany other than the HAL is at­trib­ut­able to In­dia, not Rus­sia.

In fact, when the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor (NSA) Ajit Do­val vis­ited Rus­sia in Jan­uary 2017, Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties asked him rea­sons why the Kamov he­li­copter deal was be­ing de­layed by the In­dian side. The trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy (ToT) would hardly have been a prob­lem, the Kamov be­ing quite dif­fer­ent from the BrahMos su­per­sonic mis­sile. But pos­si­bly the name(s) of pri­vate part­ners were not in­ti­mated to Rus­sia then. What­ever be the case, the good news is that Pres­i­dent Putin has given the fi­nal go-ahead for the joint ven­ture. It may be re­called that the armed forces’ en­deav­our to pro­cure 197 such last util­ity he­li­copters been scrapped three times over the last decade due to cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions and tech­ni­cal de­vi­a­tions, which has cre­ated crit­i­cal­ity of he­li­copter hold­ings in this cat­e­gory. The three ser­vices and the Coast Guard cur­rently have 430 Chee­tah/Chetak he­li­copters. They are based on the 1950s’ de­signed Alou­ette Aérospa­tiale 315B Lama of France. Post se­ries of he­li­copter crashes and loss of pre­cious lives, the then De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar was pe­ti­tioned by a group of Army of­fi­cers wives to stop the use of the “out­dated and age­ing” Chee­tah and Chetak he­li­copters, which are with­out mod­ern avion­ics but are even flown to ser­vice for­ward ar­eas like the Si­achen Glacier-Sal­toro Ridge re­gion.

The armed forces ur­gently need 484 light chop­pers to re­place their ob­so­lete sin­gle-en­gine Chee­tah/Chetak fleets, which have been dogged by a high crash rate and ser­vice­abil­ity prob­lems. Over­all, some 800 he­li­copters over the next decade are re­quired by In­dian se­cu­rity forces which is beyond the ca­pa­bil­ity of HAL The twin-en­gine Kamov 226T will re­place the sin­gle-en­gine Chee­tah/ Chetak, usu­ally de­ployed for sur­veil­lance, drop­ping small loads and for res­cue, in­clud­ing of troops posted at for­bid­ding heights uch as the Si­achen Glacier-Sal­toro Ridge re­gion. The twin-en­gine Kamov 226Ts are multi-role he­li­copters, which can un­der­take re­con­nais­sance, pa­trol and dis­as­ter re­lief op­er­a­tions as well as trans­port eight com­bat-ready sol­diers with a max­i­mum range of 600 km. How­ever, the pro­ject is not get­ting off soon, as may be per­ceived by some.

The MoD will now ask the pri­vate com­pany/com­pa­nies (HAL be­ing the lead in­te­gra­tor for the pro­ject) to sub­mit its tech­ni­cal and com­mer­cial pro­posal within six months, mean­ing some cost ne­go­ti­a­tion will be car­ried out in the fu­ture as well. Nom­i­na­tion of this com­pany too may see some tur­bu­lence be­cause the chap­ter on ‘strate­gic part­ner­ship’ in the DPP 2016 is still to be scripted. Kamov-HAL are to pro­duce 200 of the Kamov 226T copters at a cost of nearly $1 bil­lion (`6,500 crore) or ` 32 crore per copter. Sixty of these copters will come in fly-away con­di­tion from Rus­sia, another 40 will be as­sem­bled in In­dia and the re­main­ing 100 will be fully built in In­dia. In­dia will have 50.5 per cent stake in the joint ven­ture, of which the pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­nies will be strate­gic part­ners with HAL. The pri­vate part­ners would as­sist in the joint ven­ture at HAL’s Ben­galuru fa­cil­ity. The Indo-Rus­sia joint ven­ture aims to have an an­nual pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity of 40-60 he­li­copters. Un­der the agree­ment, the Kamov en­gine will in­volve a sep­a­rate part­ner­ship. Kamov uses French en­gine-maker Tur­bomeca’s power plant. The HAL al­ready has a part­ner­ship with the same French com­pany to pro­duce en­gines for its in­dige­nously de­vel­oped Dhruv he­li­copter The Kamov 226T is also fit­ted with Tur­bomeca en­gines, but a dif­fer­ent vari­ant.

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