New Delhi: The helicopter transport fleet of the Indian Armed forces will undergo a transformation in two stages – first within the next 18 months or so and the second stage will be after 4 years. The change will be across spectrum comprising heavy, medium and light utility copters. It will add several new dimensions besides strengthen the make in India initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Deliveries of the 15, CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters are expected to commence in 2018 and will signal a ‘strategic shift’. So far, Indian Air Force (IAF) uses Soviet-origin Mi-26 in the heavy-lift role and the twin-rotor Chinook will allow rapid deployment of troops, weapons and equipment like ultra light howtizer (ULH) M-777 in inaccessible mountain ranges.
In the medium weight category Russia’s Rosoboronexport, has already completed the delivery of 151 units of Mi-17V-5 helicopters. In July 2015 the IAF announced its intention to procure an additional 48 such copters, but a contract is still under discussions. The Mi-17V-5 used by the IAF has more powerful engines that work equally well in 'hot’ temperatures and also the high Himlayas. The IAF has deployed them on Siachen. A new avionics provides digital instrumentation and the fleet will soon have advanced electronic warfare (EW) suite that comprises radar warning receivers (RWRs), missile approach warning systems (MAWS), and countermeasure dispensing systems (CMDS).
The new Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) has two components to it -- Public Sector giant Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is designing, developing and building 187 LUHs, while separately, in partnership with Russia, it will build 197 Kamov-226T light helicopters. At the Aero-India 2015, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had announced this two -pronged plan to ramp up copter production.
The LUH’s will replace the obsolescent fleet of Chetak and Cheetah helicopters, some 430 are flown by the three services and the Coast Guard currently. They are based on the 1950s' designed Alouette Aérospatiale 315B Lama of France.
In September 2016, HAL conducted a technical flight of its indigenous LUH – a 3 tonne class new generation copter. It has a glass cockpit and will be deployed for reconnaissance and surveillance roles and as a light transport helicopter. Its max speed is expected to be 220 Kmph, with a service ceiling of 6.5 Km. Its powered by French company Turbomeca engines. Operational clearance of the basic version is expected during the next 24 months.
Meanwhile the HAL-Kamov joint venture will produce 197 of the Kamov 226T copters at a cost of nearly Rs 6,500 crore. An inter-governmental agreement has been inked. Incidentally, the 226-T is also fitted with Turbomeca engines, but a different variant. The twin-engined Kamov 226-T will replace the single-engine Cheetah/Chetak,usually deployed for surveillance, dropping small loads and for rescue, including of troops posted at forbidding heights such as the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region.
The of HAL has expanded capacity , on January 3 2016, it started work on a new helicopter manufacturing facility at Tumkuru, 100 kms from Bengaluru. HAL currently produces just 20 copters every year against the requirement of 100-120 annually.
Also the HAL’s Advanced Light Helicopter (Dhruv) continues production with newer versions with better avionics and engines replacing the older ones at regular intervals. As of now some 200 Dhruv’s are being flown by the three forces and also the copter is being used in search and rescue role in several Indian Ocean Island- countries. The Dhruv is a multi-role, new generation helicopter in the 5.5-ton weight class, indigenously designed and developed by HAL. Its Mark-IV is the latest version that has powerful engines -- TM 333 2B2 or Shakti -- from the Turbomeca stable, make it one of the most potent machines in the Himalayas.