New Delhi: India has launched a global hunt for 123 naval multi-role helicopters (NMRHs), with potent anti-submarine warfare capabilities, as well as 111 armed naval light utility choppers (NUHs) for operations from the decks of warships. The projects, together worth well over $ 5 billion, will be executed under the new “strategic partnership” (SP) policy under the “Make in India” framework.
The government had earlier issued the RFI (request for information) to arms majors of six countries for the over Rs 70,000 crore project to build six advanced stealth submarines in collaboration with an Indian shipyard under the SP policy.
For the two helicopter projects, the government has also sought responses from original equipment manufacturers through RFIs by early-October. The vendors will then be issued formal tenders or RFPs (request for proposals) to submit their technical and commercial bids. With the Indian companies to be selected in a parallel process, it will take at least a couple of years for the final contracts to be actually inked.
Both the NMRH and NUH are “critical operational necessities” for the Navy. Indian warships, for instance, are virtually bereft of helicopters that can detect, track and hunt enemy submarines at a time when Chinese nuclear and diesel-electric submarines are making regular forays into the Indian Ocean Region.
Even the long-pending initial procurement of 16 S-70B multi-role helicopters from American firm Sikorsky has not made any headway. The Navy is currently grappling with just 11 old Kamov-28 and 17 Sea King ASW (anti-submarine warfare) helicopters, most of them in a moth-balled condition, to defend its existing fleet of 140 warships.
ASW helicopters typically fly ahead of warships to “dunk” their sonars into the deep waters, “listen” for enemy submarines and fire torpedoes against them to clear the path for the fleet. In the 9 to 12.5-tonne class, these helicopters also have missiles to take on other warships as well as electronic warfare and early-warning suites.
The Navy, in turn, wants the twin-engine NUHs to replace its ageing fleet of single-engine Chetak helicopters. The NUHs are different from the Army/IAF light choppers because they need wheeled landing gears, sea optimization, foldable blades and small dimensions to ensure they can fit into warship hangars. But the acquisition plans of the armed forces, which want to induct around 1,200 helicopters of different types over the next 10-15 years, have been dogged by long delays, scams and scrapping of tenders.