The Indian Army has placed a $77 million order with Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) for 20 Cheetal helicopters, a re-engined variant of the Aerospatiale SA 316B Lama that was built under license in India as the Cheetah. The order is a short-term measure for logistics support to the Indian troops on the Siachen Glacier because of delays to the twice-bid competition for 197 reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters (RSH). The future of that requirement is uncertain.
HAL has committed to “supply 20 Cheetals over the next four years besides providing training to its pilots and technical crew,” the company said in a statement. It has already delivered nine Cheetals from the 10-aircraft order the Indian Air Force placed as long ago as 2006, an HAL official told AIN. The company is building Cheetals at a rate of one every 16 months. The new version is powered by a Turbomeca TM333 2M2 engine.
“Cheetal is just a lifeline. It is needed urgently because the troops are in a rarified atmosphere and casualties have to be evacuated as fast as possible,” an army official told AIN. But with the production of aluminum rotor blades now ended in France by Eurocopter and the TM333 engine also now out of production, there is concern about the supply chain for the Cheetal. With HAL insisting on paying only the price for these items that was charged when they were in full production, a delay in deliveries is inevitable, an MoD official told AIN.
The Cheetal can operate at an altitude of up to almost 23,000 feet and has a range of 346 nm with an endurance of three and a half hours. The TM333 2M2 is fitted with a full authority digital engine control system (Fadec) and an electronic backup control box system that automatically takes over engine control in the event of a Fadec failure, said HAL.
The company describes the Cheetal as “a multirole helicopter, best suited for missions such as personnel transport, casualty evacuation, reconnaissance and aerial survey, logistic air support, rescue operations and underslung loads.”