On September 28, 2015, the Ministry of Defence signed a $1 billion contract with Boeing for the procurement of 15 Chinook CH-47F heavy-lift helicopters, the iconic American workhorse, for the IAF. Apart from the helicopters, the contract includes training, logistic and maintenance support. The Chinook will replace the Russian Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopters that have become practically defunct. The IAF badly needs induction of new platforms in this category.
As per the contract, Boeing is required to deliver the first Chinook helicopter in three years i.e. in September 2018 and the last one before the end of four years i.e. by September 2019. However, it appears that is going to delay in the delivery schedule. But the fact that pilots and flight engineers of the IAF have already commenced training in the US, suggests that the delay in the delivery schedule may not be inordinate. Also, the first of the 15 Chinook helicopters produced for the IAF, has carried out its maiden flight, crossing of an important milestone.
As per Pratyush Kumar, President Boeing India, the IAF will receive the most advanced version of the Chinook which is a multimission helicopter currently operated by the US Army and the armed forces of 18 other countries. Induction of this platform into the IAF will be a landmark event as it will be a major change in its force structure that has traditionally been composed of Russian platforms. This contract will also help strengthen the position of the US as the second largest arms supplier for India after Russia.
The Chinook is a twin-engine, heavy-lift platform with two contra-rotating main rotors and is employed for transportation of troops, heavy artillery and outsize equipment. Its development began in 1957 by American rotorcraft company Vertol and was later manufactured by Boeing. This helicopter first flew in the Vietnam War and thereafter, has continuously evolved in design and capability. Today, it is one of the world’s most capable heavy-lift helicopters that, apart from airlifting heavy loads, can transport combat-ready troops and haul under-slung 155 millimetre Howitzer to support troops at altitudes up to 15,000 feet.
The helicopters ordered will be delivered in fly-away condition and the contract will be followed up by “Offset Obligation” under which the Boeing will be required to invest in the Indian aerospace industry, 30 per cent of the value of the contract which will amount to $300 million. This will be a significant boost to the Indian aerospace industry especially in the private sector. Boeing already has tie ups with a number of companies in the private sector of the Indian aerospace industry for the manufacture of components for their aircraft being manufactured outside India. Bengaluru-based Dynamatics Technologies builds the aft pylon and cargo ramps for the global supply chain and caters for every CH-47 Chinook helicopter built today. Rossell Techsys based in Whitefield, Bengaluru, fabricates wire harnesses for the Chinook helicopter.
Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) based in Hyderabad, is already engaged in manufacturing crown and tail cones for CH-47 Chinook helicopters for the US Army as well as for international customers.
Boeing and TASL have recently announced the delivery of the first crown and tail cone assembly for the Indian configuration of the Chinook helicopter. Manufactured by TASL in Hyderabad, these parts will be delivered to Boeing for final assembly of the 15 helicopters for delivery to the IAF. “This delivery is another significant step in our journey to increase defence capability and manufacturing capacity out of India with our strategic partners,” said Pratyush Kumar, President, Boeing India. “TASL has demonstrated the ability to deliver high-quality components to the CH-47 Chinook programme on schedule, which in turn helps Boeing meet commitments to our customers,” he said. “We are clearly invested in leveraging the full potential of capability that exists in India to continue delivering greater value at lower cost to our US and international customers,” Kumar said. Boeing says that the company is in the search for additional Indian vendors for building several more components.
Acquisition of the CH-47F Chinook fleet, will not only enhance the operational capability of the IAF, it will also contribute substantially to the growth of the Indian aerospace industry in the private sector. IAF pilots and flight engineers already undergoing training in the US, is good news and a healthy sign that the project for the induction of the Chinook into the IAF is on track!