Thumbs up for the Ro­tary Wing – In­dian Navy

Rear Ad­mi­ral Sushil Ram­say (Retd)


WiTH THe in­DuC­Tion of the first air­craft car­rier, INS Vikrant, the Search and res­cue (SAr) Alou­ette he­li­copter was also in­ducted in 1961. The sur­vey ship INS Dar­shak, which had been de­signed to em­bark a he­li­copter, first em­barked an Alou­ette in 1970 to help sur­vey the Gulf of Kutch. Like­wise, Alou­ette flight was as­signed to the fleet tanker INS Deepak for ‘Lo­gis­tic Sup­port’ in ad­di­tion to SAR role. The Le­an­der class frigates were de­signed to em­bark Multi-Role An­ti­Sub­ma­rine Tor­pedo Car­ry­ing He­li­copters (MATCH).

it is an open se­cret that the big­gest threat to in­di­aÕs mar­itime in­ter­ests and its sur­face fleet comes from en­emy sub­marines. While ev­ery war­ship has hull­mounted sonar for track­ing sub­marines be­low the sur­face, the po­tency of ASW he­li­copters to counter the sub-sur­face threats is un­match­able.

Ad­verse hy­dro­log­i­cal con­di­tions and cur­rents in the Ara­bian Sea, Bay of Ben­gal and the in­dian ocean im­pinge on the de­tec­tion ca­pa­bil­ity of the hull-mounted sonar. Con­versely, the ASW he­li­copters with its dunk­ing sonar ca­pa­bil­ity prove far more ef­fec­tive and ac­cu­rate un­der such con­di­tions. ASW he­li­copters prove a bet­ter plat­form as these can not only hunt a sub­ma­rine, its own de­tec­tion and hunt­ing down by a sub­ma­rine is very nigh im­pos­si­ble.

Af­ter the de­ci­sion had been taken for the army, navy and air force to have a com­mon he­li­copter, the French Alou­ette III was cho­sen for in­dige­nous man­u­fac­ture at the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited (HAL). The Navy’s first three he­li­copters were im­ported from France. The re­main­der were sup­plied by HAL as Chetak.

In the early 1980s, HAL in­di­cated that they were con­sid­er­ing dis­con­tin­u­ing the pro­duc­tion of Chetak he­li­copters. Since the pro­duc­tion of the re­place­ment Advanced Light He­li­copters (ALH) would take con­sid­er­able time, HAL con­tin­ued pro­duc­tion of Chetaks.

The In­dian Navy re­ceived its first ALH, Dhruv on March 28, 2002. It was ex­pected to re­ceive a to­tal of 120 units to re­place Chetak he­li­copters. The naval vari­ant, Dhruv is fit­ted with the Su­per Vi­sion-2000 mar­itime radar, ca­pa­ble of de­tect­ing targets with low radar cross sec­tion at a range of 200 km. The anti-sub­ma­rine ver­sion of the he­li­copter is fit­ted with dunk­ing sonar, tor­pe­does, and depth charges. The he­li­copter may also be fit­ted with the mis­siles for anti-ship roles. Con­sid­er­ing that it is a sin­gle-en­gine he­li­copter and had cer­tain is­sues with its wing fold­ing mech­a­nism, in 2008 In­dian Navy pro­nounced Dhruv un­suit­able as an ASW plat­form. How­ever, in­dian navy con­tin­ued to pro­cure Dhruv as a multi-role util­ity plat­form.

Naval Util­ity He­li­copters

In 2012 the In­dian Navy launched a $1 bil- lion global ten­der for the pur­chase of 56 light naval util­ity He­li­copters (nuH) to be ac­quired by 2016 to re­place the age­ing HAL Chetak. The ten­der was is­sued to Agus­taWest­land, Bell He­li­copter, Boe­ing, Euro­copter, Kamov and Siko­rsky. How­ever, within short span of two years the ten­der was can­celled in Au­gust 2014.

The in­dian navy is fac­ing acute short­age of the naval util­ity He­li­copters (nuH) for re­plac­ing its ag­ing fleet of Chetak he­li­copters for the front­line frigates and off­shore pa­trol ves­sels with small-decks and air­craft car­ri­ers, as also for the shore based flights to ex­tend sup­port out at Sea for the smaller ships not de­signed to carry NUH.

it is learnt that De­fence min­is­ter nir­mala Sithara­man in a sys­tem­atic man­ner has been re­view­ing all on­go­ing and pend­ing projects over de­lays in spe­cific de­fence ac­qui­si­tion projects. In con­so­nance with the on­go­ing mo­men­tum De­fence Ac­quisi- tion Coun­cil (DAC), the high­est de­ci­sion­mak­ing body for de­fence pro­cure­ment, chaired by De­fence Min­is­ter on Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 30, 2017, has ac­corded Ac­cep­tance of ne­ces­sity (Aon) for the pro­cure­ment of 111 NUH worth `21,738 crore ($3.2 bil­lion). In­dian Navy has been mak­ing its pro­pos­als un­der the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship model to give a ma­jor boost to in­dige­nous de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing capabilities in the coun­try, es­pe­cially in the Naval Avi­a­tion seg­ment.

The min­istry of De­fence (moD)-in­dian navy com­bine will now is­sue the for­mal re­quest for Pro­posal (rfP) to orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers (oem) for the first 16 he­li­copters to be im­ported in fly­away con­di­tion, with the bal­ance 95 to be man­u­fac­tured in in­dia by an in­dian man­u­fac­turer in part­ner­ship with the se­lected global OEM. RFP for the NUH is ex­pected to be is­sued by mid-2018. Go­ing by the stip­u­lated pro­vi­sions of the De­fence Pro­cure- ment Pro­ce­dure, it could take two years, or more be­fore the main con­tract is signed.

Spec­i­fi­ca­tion/Con­tours of NUH

The spec­i­fi­ca­tions/con­tours of the ap­proved scheme of nuH sig­nal a path­break­ing amal­ga­ma­tion of roles of ASW and light-at­tack mis­sions which were ear­lier the sole pre­serve of heav­ier West­land Sea King fleet. This ini­tia­tive will pro­vide a kind of force mul­ti­plier capabilities to not just the front­line war­ships, but also to the medium and mi­nor war ves­sels through the shore based flights.

The twin-en­gine he­li­copter will be flown by two pi­lots and have wheeled land­ing gear and blade-fold ca­pa­bil­ity. In­dia wants nuH to be in­dige­nously built with 40 per cent in­dige­nous con­tent. In­dian navy re­quires oems to offer nuH that can op­er­ate in ad­verse weather day/night con­di­tions for SAr and con­duct ca­su­alty evac­u­a­tion and lo­gis­tics and com­mu­ni­ca­tion roles with un­der slung cargo. Other tasks in­clude lim­ited elec­tronic-in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing, ASW with a light tor­pedo or depth charge, dy­namic re­sponse dur­ing aid to civil au­thor­i­ties, and anti-piracy mis­sions with small arms. In­dian Navy wants to op­er­ate NUH from small-deck of frigates and off­shore pa­trol ves­sels, as well as from air­craft car­ri­ers.

Likely OEMs to par­tic­i­pate in the ten­der are Air­bus He­li­copter’s AS565 Pan­ther and Siko­rsky’s S-76B. Bell He­li­copter, Leonardo and rus­sian He­li­copters could also offer own prod­uct. The RFP stip­u­lates a wheeled he­li­copter with an all-up weight that does not ex­ceed 4.5 met­ric tonnes, pow­ered by twin turbo-shaft en­gines with an elec­tronic en­gine-con­trol mech­a­nism. The NUH is to be ca­pa­ble of de­ploy­ing at least one light­weight ASW tor­pedo or two depth charges, with the abil­ity to mount 12.7mm ma­chine guns or rocket launch­ers on ei­ther side.

Naval Multi-Role He­li­copters

in­dian navy has been fac­ing short­age of multi-role he­li­copters for de­ploy­ment on war­ships for more than a decade. On a long-term per­spec­tive in­dian navy has a plan for ac­quir­ing 123 more Naval Mul­ti­role He­li­copters (nmrH) to be used as ship borne flights of two he­li­copters each for its front­line de­stroy­ers and frigates to form in­te­gral air for crit­i­cal op­er­a­tions out at sea.

it is learnt that the rfi for nmrH has been floated by MoD glob­ally on Au­gust 22, 2017. In­dian Navy is also fi­nal­is­ing an rfP for a fol­low-on nmrH to ac­quire 75 more he­li­copters as part of a fresh bid. The NMRH will pro­gres­sively re­place In­dia Navy’s West­land Sea King Mk. 42B fleet. Apart from the NH90, con­tenders for the nmrH bid could in­clude the Lockheed Martin/Siko­rsky MH-60R (which was dropped from the orig­i­nal nmrH com­pe­ti­tion since moD did not want a sin­gle-ven­dor for­eign mil­i­tary sale on which the Pen­tagon had in­sisted) and Air­bus He­li­copters H225M.

(Top) Air­bus He­li­copter’s AS565 Pan­ther; (above) Siko­rsky’s S-76B.

PHOTOGRAPHS: Air­bus He­li­copters, Lockheed Martin

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