IAF chopper fleet to fly high with 300 new machines

March 3rd, 2011 - 10:38 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) The Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter fleet is all set to get a boost during the next nine years with plans for inducting 300 attack, transport and observation choppers in advanced stages of implementation in deals worth $5.5 billion.

Among the new choppers to be inducted will be 12 VVIP transports, 22 attack, 15 heavy-lift, 130 medium-lift and 120 light utility helicopters of varying types, sizes and capabilities.

The deals for most of these helicopters are expected to be signed during fiscal 2011-12, with the acquisitions being completed before 2020, a senior IAF officer told IANS. The officer, because of service rules, did not wish to be identified.

Among the first procurements will be the 12 VVIP transport helicopters for the Palam-based Communication Squadron. India had signed an $800 million (Rs.37 billion) deal with British-Italian helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland for its AW-101 platform in March 2010.

The three-engined AW-101s, which will provide safe, secure, comfortable and stylish domestic journeys for the president, the prime minister and other senior political leaders, are scheduled for delivery in late 2013. The AW-101s will replace the existing VVIP fleet of aging Soviet era Mi-17s.

The IAF will also induct 80 Mi-17-IV over the next couple of years to augment it medium-lift capability of the existing Mi-8 and Mi-17 fleet. It is also in the final stages of deciding on 50 additional Mi-17s over and above the 80 it ordered in 2008 for $1.3 billion.

To augment its existing two squadrons of 30 Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack choppers, the IAF is on the verge of concluding a $500 million contract for 22 combat helicopters, for which US aerospace major Boeing’s AH-64 Apache and Russian Mil’s Mi-28 are in contention.

The flight and weapons trials of the two competing helicopters were completed in February and the evaluation reports are awaited to begin cost negotiations with the chosen firm.

The IAF is also testing two platforms, again from Boeing and Mil, to meet its need for 15 heavy-lift helicopters to replace the four Mi-26s - said to be the world’s heaviest military chopper - India bought from the erstwhile Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Boeing has fielded its CH-47 Chinook and Mil has offered an upgraded Mi-26 for the IAF tender, estimated to be worth $2 billion.

To replace its ageing 1970s vintage fleet of 75 Cheetahs and Chetaks, the IAF is in the process of procuring 64 new light utility helicopters (LUH) along with the army’s need for 133 machines.

While the first LUH tender was issued in 2003, it had to be cancelled in December 2007 after discrepancies were found in the helicopter that the chosen European firm, Eurocopter, had fielded for the trials.

The tender for 197 LUHs (64 for the IAF and 133 for the army) was reissued in July 2008, for which Eurocopter’s AS550-C3 Fennec and Russian manufacturer Kamov’s Ka-226 are in the race. The IAF element of this deal is worth $960 million.

The total LUH requirement of the two forces is said to be 384. Since defence public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has said it can deliver an indigenous LUH, the defence ministry in July 2008 gave it the responsibility of supplying 187 machines, though the immediate requirements of the IAF and the army will be met by the tender for the 197 LUHs.

The IAF currently operates 300 helicopters of various types, 100 of which will be phased out by the end of this decade as the 300 new choppers start arriving.

(N. C. Bipindra can be contacted at nc.bipindra@ians.in)

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