India has decided to manufacture light choppers designed for operations in high altitudes, vital for maintaining troops through the year, following spike in border deployments.
The indigenous light utility helicopter (LUH), which has performed well in recent trials in Ladakh as well, will initially be produced in limited numbers before a larger order is placed for the Army and Air Force. With both satisfied with trial performances, the defence ministry is now processing the first order for 12 choppers, which will be followed by a larger batches to achieve a total of 187 LUHs in service.
“The acceptance of necessity for the first 12 helicopters is being approved. Once the order is placed, we will be in the position to deliver all of them within 28 months as the production facilities are already in place,” R Madhavan, the chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which has designed and developed the chopper, told ET.
These choppers are likely to be cheaper than foreign ones and is also likely to beat the Indo-Russian venture for Ka 226 helicopters on pricing as well. While the commercial bids for the Ka 226 are yet to be opened and issues around indigenisation levels are being discussed, the plan to manufacture at least 200 of the choppers in India is expected to cost under $2 billion.
While the Indo-Russian joint venture is also progressing, the indigenous LUH could end up in active service earlier if approvals are given for manufacturing. The Indian chopper is also expected to cost less as no transfer of technology costs are involved and it would have a very high indigenous content as most parts will be sourced from domestic companies. HAL has also been scaling up its production infrastructure with a new plant in Tumkur that has significantly enhanced capacity. “With the Tumkur plant, we can now manufacture up to 60 helicopters per year. Including current capacity, we can do up to 90 chopper per year if the requirement is there and orders are placed,” Madhavan said. There is a huge demand for helicopters in the armed forces, given that the existing Cheetah/Chetak fleet has been in service for over four decades and is getting increasingly difficult to maintain as global manufacturers have stopped manufacturing spare parts, he said. Light choppers are used extensively by the Army and Air Force to supply and maintain troops in high altitude locations including the Siachen glacier where they are a lifeline for soldiers deployed at posts in excess of 18,000 feet. They carry out a variety of missions including casualty evacuation, dropping medical supplies, transporting essential equipment and facilitating quick movement at the frontier.