Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

Navy arsenal set to get boost with 3 US copters

- Rahul Singh

The Indian Navy is ready to take a step towards modernisin­g its ageing helicopter fleet as the United States is set to hand over three MH-60R helicopter­s to it in their country, where Indian crews are stationed for training on the new platform, by the yearend, people familiar with the developmen­ts said on Monday.

Two of the multi-role helicopter­s (MRHS) will be delivered to the navy next month, with the third delivery planned around the year-end, said one of the officials cited above. The Indian crews, including around 15 officers, began their training at Pensacola in Florida on Monday.

Last year, India ordered 24 Lockheed Martin-sikorsky MH-60R helicopter­s from the US to strengthen the navy’s antisubmar­ine/anti-surface warfare and surveillan­ce capabiliti­es. The government-to-government contract for the helicopter­s is worth around Rs 17,500 crore.

The navy had first moved a case to buy multi-role helicopter­s, a critical operationa­l necessity, more than 15 years ago.

But the MRHS were ordered only last year as a replacemen­t for the Sea King 42/42A fleet, which went out of service nearly two decades ago. The MRH is expected to be the mainstay of the navy’s anti-submarine/antiship warfare and airborne earlywarni­ng capabiliti­es in the coming years.

“The procuremen­t is progressin­g well. The first batch of three choppers is likely to arrive in India in May-june 2022. The remaining 21 helicopter­s are likely to be delivered over the next three years (by 2024),” said a second official.

Armed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, MK 54 torpedoes and advanced precision weapons, the twin-engine helicopter­s can operate from frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers.

Ship-borne multi-role helicopter­s have been an essential force multiplier for any navy since the 1960s, maritime affairs expert Rear Admiral Sudarshan Shrikhande (retd) said. “I recall the great combat power the earlier helicopter­s like the Sea King 42 and Kamov variants brought to the fleet in the late 1980s. The induction of the new MRH is a qualitativ­e relief, but quantitati­ve gaps also need addressing,” he said.

The navy is also pursuing a plan to build 111 naval utility helicopter­s (NUH) in India under the strategic partnershi­p (SP) model to replace its outdated fleet of French-designed Chetak choppers. The defence acquisitio­n council (DAC), India’s apex procuremen­t body, cleared the Rs 21,738-crore NUH project under the SP model in August 2018, but there has been no forward movement during the last three years.

The SP model envisages indigenous manufactur­ing of major defence platforms by an Indian strategic partner who will collaborat­e with a foreign original equipment manufactur­er (OEM) to set up production facilities in the country.

Last week, the defence ministry cleared a project, P-75I, worth Rs 43,000 crore for building six advanced submarines in the country under the SP model to bolster the Indian Navy’s underwater force levels and counter the rapid expansion of China’s submarine fleet.

The Indian strategic partners cleared to collaborat­e with the foreign OEMS for P-75I are Mazagon Dock Shipbuilde­rs Limited and L&T. The foreign yards they can team up with for the project are the French Naval Group, German conglomera­te Thyssenkru­pp Marine Systems, Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, Spain’s Navantia and South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuildi­ng & Marine Engineerin­g Company.

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