India May Drop Big Helicopter Purchase from Abroad

 - August 31, 2012, 9:45 AM
The Eurocopter AS550C3 Fennec is thought to be the leading contender for a 197-aircraft order from India, but that country may drop plans to acquire light utility helicopters from abroad (Photo: Eurocopter)

India may abandon plans to procure 197 light utility helicopter (LUHs) from abroad for the Indian air force (64) and army (133). Such a decision would favor government-owned defense manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL), which is developing its own LUH design based on the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). The government was already planning to order an additional 187 light utility helicopters to be produced under license by HAL. It is not clear what the time frame for delivery would be, as HAL would need to expand its current production facility, requiring government approval.

The request for proposal for the LUHs was first released in 2008, then withdrawn after a protest from Bell Helicopter. The two eventual contenders, the Eurocopter AS550C3 Fennec and the Kamov Ka-226, completed trials in 2010. Eurocopter and Rosboronexport are still waiting for the commercial bids to be opened. They have received no indication from the government on the final outcome.

Speaking to AIN on condition of anonymity, a tier-two supplier said that the government’s continued indecision on the LUH requirement is jeopardizing the delivery timeframe. “If this [requirement] is retendered, HAL will come up with an alternative…[but] India is showing its arrogance. However, it is such a big order that it cannot be ignored,” the supplier added.

Meanwhile, even as the Indian rupee depreciates, making procurement from abroad more expensive, the commercial bids are still to open for the navy’s 16 multi-role helicopters (MRH). The two final contenders, NHI (NH-90) and Sikorsky (S-70B), have now been told to extend their bids by six months, until January 2013. The Indian defense ministry also recently released a tender for 56 naval light utility helicopters.

An order for 22 Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters will be finalized in a few more months. The Indian government needs to notify the U.S. government before the bid is opened, to be followed by contract negotiations. The U.S. is offering the helicopters as a foreign military sale. The Apache met all the air staff requirements during trials, while the competing Russian Mi-28 did not.