After years of procrastination over selecting a new naval multi-role helicopter (MRH), the Indian Ministry of Defence may still make an interim purchase of up to 24 Sikorsky S-70B Seahawkss. This follows repeated appeals by the Indian Navy to hasten the program, given the state of its aging and depleted Sea King fleet and its ambitions to become a "Blue Water Navy." India recently issued a new request for information (RFI) for 123 MRHs to perform anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), electronic intelligence-gathering, and search and rescue (SAR). These helicopters would be procured and produced according to Delhi’s "Make in India" policy.
However, “The Navy wants these [24 S-70Bs] yesterday,” a senior official told AIN. The performance of the Seahawk has been accepted by the service, following trials. But previous and extended commercial negotiations with Sikorsky failed at agreeing on price, with the American company refusing to extend its bid and take account of the depreciation of the Indian currency against the U.S. dollar over the past nine years.
Now, the Indian government is considering procuring 16 S-70Bs plus eight options via the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) procedure.
With elections due in 2019, the Indian government is keen to preserve its "clean" image, and opting for an FMS would help achieve that. As a senior American government official testified to the U.S. Congress in June, “Demonstrating to the public that an acquisition is free of corruption is a significant selling point of the FMS system. Moreover, FMS provides a total-package approach, including sustainment, technical support, training, and software/hardware updates," said Tina Kaidanow, acting assistant secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Designed to perform ASW and ASuW missions, the S-70B will be configured to meet the Indian Navy’s specific and unique operational needs, said Lockheed Martin. They will include a weapons management system that integrates an advanced sonar, 360-degree search radar, modern air-to-surface missiles, and torpedoes for the ASW role. “The S-70B aircraft also will enhance the Indian Navy’s capabilities to perform non-combat maritime roles, including search and rescue, utility and external cargo lift, surveillance and casualty evacuation,” Lockheed Martin added in a statement.