With the deal for Ka-226T utility helicopters with Russia not concluded five years after it was announced and its fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters at the end of their service life, the Army is set to approach the Defence Ministry for a waiver to take the deal forward.

“About 75% of the Army’s fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters is over 30 years old. Some of them are about 50 years old. We need urgent replacements. The Ka-226T deal with Russia has been stuck over indigenisation. So the Army is approaching the Ministry of Defence [MoD] for a waiver to conclude the deal,” a defence official said on condition of anonymity.

Operational capability

Stating that the operational capability has already been impacted due to deficiencies and non-availability of replacement, the official stated, “The total technical life of these helicopters will start finishing from 2023 onwards. So the existing deficiencies will keep increasing.”

In 2015, India and Russia had concluded an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for at least 200 Ka-226T twin engine utility helicopters estimated to cost over $1 billion with 60 helicopters to be directly imported and remaining 140 manufactured locally. They are to replace the ageing and obsolete Cheetah and Chetak fleet of the Army and the Air Force.

A joint venture India Russia Helicopters Limited (IRHL) has been set up between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Russian Helicopters (RH) which will assemble the helicopters in India. The Request For Proposal (RFP) issued by the MoD to IRHL for 200 helicopters stated 70% localisation over which the final deal has been held up as the JV quoted localisation of 62.4% in its response.

Efforts to resolve this impasse in the last few months by adopting a revised methodology has not made any progress, it has been learnt. As the RFP states 70% indigenous content, it cannot be modified. Withdrawing it and issuing a new one would mean another 2-3 years lost. “The Army is now in a desperate situation for replacements and is preparing to take the case to the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) for a waiver to proceed with 62.4%,” the official stated.

Import content

“Even indigenous platforms like Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) have significant import content. How can an imported and assembled platform meet 70% requirement,” the official questioned. According to a March 2020 report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, the ALH has 46% import content by value, LCA – 40% and SU-30MKI assembled by HAL with technology transfer also has 40%.

The issue has been taken up by Army Chief General Manoj Naravane with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, another official said. The Army has around 185 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters with around 20 helicopters with HAL for overhaul for around a year at any point of time.

The requirement

There is a requirement of around 400 such helicopters with the remaining to be met by the indigenous Light Utility helicopter being developed by HAL.

The first helicopter would be delivered within 36 months from the signing of the contract and order completed in eight years. The helicopter is powered by a French engine and would have 74% Russian content and 26% European content. It is not possible to meet the 70% localisation requirement on 160 helicopters, a diplomatic source said.

At Defexpo 2020 in Lucknow early this year, officials from RH explained that the localisation plan would be spread over four phases beginning with 3.3% indigenisation for 35 helicopters, going to 15% for next 25 helicopters, 35% for 30 helicopters in Phase 3 and eventually to 62.4% indigenisation in Phase 4 for the last 50 helicopters.