Indian Navy NUH competition
Continuing the glorious traditions of DELAY in procurement the Indian Navy is still in hunt for a decent helicopter to replace HAL CHETAK. The current retirement of Navy RFI states that, The helicopter should be able to perform the following roles by day and night:-
a. Search and Rescue.
b.Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC).
c. Communication Duties.
d. Anti-Piracy and Anti-terrorism.
e. Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).
f. Surveillance and Targeting.
Until now Indian Navy has failed to care for the Naval variant of HAL DHRUV, about which a strong case has been made by HAL. Many prominent voices are lobbying for Dhruv.
India is increasing ships in it's armada and also plans to have 4 helicopter carriers and 2 - 3 aircraft carriers in future to bolster its Defence capabilities and become a net security provider in type Indian Ocean as well as station its Naval assets in Vietnam. Indian Navy is also building Missile Range Instrumentation Ship and Ocean Surveillance Ship. The modernisation plans of Navy asks for a scalable technologically advances multirole helicopter with indigenous content to manage supplychain efficiently. The foreign OEM have to enter into an agreement with an Indian company under the strategic partnership model and has to agree on Transfer of Technologies of certain critical components.
Starting from the basic, The NUH must have twin engine with blade folding capability and wheeled landing gear and a maximum weight of 5 Tonnes. The helicopter is expected to have two people crew and should be capable of rescuing two survivors with rescue hoist. It should also have search light and EO/IR sensors for night operations. In casualty evacuation role the Helicopter should ferry two stretchers and one medical attendant. In normal transportation mode it should carry minimum 6 passengers 420 Kgs load inside cabin and 500 kgs slung under with a hook. All these above stated capabilities are necessary for Search and Rescue, Medical Evacuation and Casualty Evacuation. In our article we will compare the capabilities of all contenders as to how they would fray. The NUH must satisfy corrosion resistance standards as mentioned in RFI.
Indian Navy also needs the NUH for antipiracy roles whilst it would be fitted with Weapons. The helicopter is expected to have capability of at least one 12.7 mm machine gun, detachable or fixed light armour protection (at least for cockpit floor or crew seats), 4 commando seats, rappelling installation. The NUH is also expected to have other contemporary sub systems for ship based and shore based operations and should be reliable in all weather day and night conditions.
Indian private Defence Technology companies do not have the same level of Research & Development capabilities, manufacturing infrastructure, skilled manpower and ecosystem of vendors as that of Defence Public Sector Undertakings. Foreign Defence Technology companies who had been selling their products since world war 2 have a huge experience and expertise giving extra quality to their products and level of technology. India has a huge potential in terms of Defence FDI and to properly exploit that the government's Defence Procurement Policy is tweaked constantly so that Foriegn companies can make long term strategic investments with assured returns and Local companies should absorb the R&D methodology and high level manufacturing infrastructure.
With this aim in mind the Strategic Partnership model has been detailed in the new DPP. The Government can select an Indian manufacturer to collaborate with a foreign OEM to setup manufacturing and R&D facility in India and create a sustainable local vendor ecosystem and skilled manpower for long term strategic benefits. The Indian Navy NUH RFI details about the technologies that must necessarily be transferred to local company for manufacturing.
Some popular helicopters in competition are listed below. We would compare capabilities of each and every of them to check how much they can live up to the hopes of Indian Navy. The strategic partnership model may rope in Indian companies like Larsen and Touro, TATA Advanced Systems Limited, Kalyani Group, Reliance Defence, etc.
Airbus AS565 Panther.
Indian Navy has been offered the AS565 MBe variant. It has originally been designed to perform operations like maritime surveillance, search and rescue, casualty evacuation, offshore patrolling and Anti-Piracy. It is powered by two Safran Arriel 2N turboshaft engines with power output of 842kW each and controlled using a full authority digital engine control (FADEC) system. The AS565 MBe satisfies almost all of the stated requirements and exceeds some of them. Some key design features include a Starflex main rotor head with four glass / carbon-fibre blades. Its Fenestron shrouded type tail rotor is equipped with composite blades, retractable tricycle landing gear. The Main rotors being constructed out of Carbon fiber composites are corrosion resistant and can be folded for adjustment in close spaces on ship deck. The tail rotor has 11 blades and them being faired-in type increases ground crew and passenger safety while maneuvering at low altitudes. The AS565 MBe is capable of withstanding a vertical impact from 7m. The fuel system is rated to withstand a 14m crash and the fuel tanks are self sealing.
It fares very well to the requirements of Indian Navy. The Panther has the capacity to transport ten commandos and weighs 4.5 Tonnes. For medical evacuation, it can accommodate up to four patients and one doctor. A sling with a 1,600kg capacity or a 90m-long electrical hoist for loads up to 27.2kg can be fitted. Panther provides a maximum speed of 287km/h and a range of 780 to 790km. Main components of the helicopter’s transmission system are one main gearbox and one tail gearbox. The AS565 MBe has a rate of climb of 6m/s and an IGE hover ceiling of 2,548m. It can stay in air for four hours and eight minutes when flying at a speed of 140km/h.
The ferry range and service ceiling of the helicopter are 827km and 5,865m respectively.
Originally developed as a light battlefield support helicopter, the H145M's Naval variant has a 4-axis autopilot combined with a weather and search radar, emergency floats, a life raft and an emergency locator transmitter (ELT), allow the H145M to fulfill day and night maritime security missions. These include exclusive economic zone surveillance and control; maritime counter-terrorism/piracy; ship replenishment; and search and rescue (SAR) and medical evacuation at sea, among others. Key features of the H145M are the wide range of available optional mission equipment packages that can be rapidly installed and removed, based on the requirements of the mission. Within minutes, the aircraft can be reconfigured from troop transport with seats to a search and rescue mission with rescue hoist and stretchers, or to an armed helicopter with a set of weapons and ballistic protection. The H145M is powered by two Turbomeca Arriel 2E engines equipped with dual-channel full authority digital engine controls (FADEC). Each engine develops a maximum continuous power of 771shp (575kW). It has a fast cruise speed of 244km/h, maximum speed of 250km/h and maximum range of 662km. Its outstanding hover performance allows for operations at altitudes of 2,700m (8,858ft).
H145M can seat up to 11 personnel including crew and troops. The large cabin space accommodates up to 10 troops in a high-density air assault layout, or a fully-equipped force for special operations. Troops can rapidly ingress / egress through large sliding side doors and the rear clamshell door. The rotorcraft can be fitted with mission equipment kits including a fast rope system, cargo hooks and hoists for transport and utility missions. The helicopter has a maximum take-off weight of 3.7t and can carry a useful load of 1,769kg, whereas its sling load capacity is 1,500kg. It measures 13.6m in length when rotors are in operation and has a width of 2.7m when blades are folded. The height and main rotor diameter of the helicopter are 4m and 11m, respectively.
Ka-226T's case regarding Indian Armed Forces is the most unique. The Ka-226T has been selected for Indian Army's requirement of light helicopters and is supposed to have it's production line in India. India`s MoD is planning to acquire a total of 200 Ka-226Ts, including 60 set to be supplied by Russia in flyaway condition and 140 set to be produced under license in India by the HLC. The HLC JV has been established by India`s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL; owns a 50.5% stake) corporation and Russia` Russian Helicopters holding (a subsidiary of Rostec state corporation; owns a 49.5% stake). According to the Jane`s think tank, of 140 helicopters set to be built in India, 100 will incorporate an increased share (between 30% and 40%) of Indian-made components. So apart from technical benefits the already available production line in India saves time required for negotiations.
The Kamov Ka-226T is available in two medical versions – one for evacuation purposes and one for intensive care. The medevac version comes with stretchers for two patients, oxygen tanks and essential medical equipment. It also has adjustable seats for medical staff. The intensive-care version has room for one patient and for two medical workers to administer treatment in flight. The Ka-226T makes it easy to load and unload stretcher patients through a wide door at the back of the transport cabin. The on-board medical equipment meets international requirements and helps medical staff to operate highly efficiently. The Ka-226T’s coaxial main rotors give it incredibly precise hovering ability, and make it easy to fly and highly manoeuvrable. The helicopter can take off and land in small spaces. It has a range of 500 km and top speed of 250 km/h. Ka-226T is powered by Turbomeca’s Arrius 2G1.
The detachable cabin module is unique to many Kamov helicopters and the Ka-226T perfects this design and offers a lot of flexibility in operations. The module can be removed or attached in only 2 hours. Co-axial rotors impart exceptional stability while hovering which is very vital during troop insertions and cargo delivery. Ka-226T can lift 1.5 tons slung load. The cabins with their 7 man capacity will be of great help while inserting troops and evacuating them. Ka-226T has a maximum internal load capacity of 1100 kgs. Its cruise speed is 220 km/hr and hover ceiling is 4600m. The Ka-226T makes a good case for selection reducing the number of diversified helicopters being operated in India and saving time and expenses on spare parts
The S-76 originally designed as a commercial utility Helicopter has its latest S-76D variant Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210S. Also features a Thales Topdeck avionics suite and improved noise signature over all previous variants. Sikorsky's 76 has been sold in India as an executive personnel carrier. The US intends to break in India's defence market even offering supply chain partnership and manufacturing units in India itself. Moreover S-76 and its variants are one of the most widely used helicopters all across the world.
The helicopter in SAR configuration can mount hoist, searchlight, EO/IR imaging devices, flotation raft, etc. The cabin can comfortably accommodate two stretchers and a medical attendant. The sling load capacity is 1.5 tonnes. The newly designed wider cord tail rotor ensures positive handling characteristics in cross winds up to 35 kts, another critical performance feature of the S-76D flown in air medical missions. Its maximum speed is 287 km/hr. Maximum range of around 870 km. It can carry a load of 2.3 tonnes. It weights 5.4 tonnes which is way higher than requirement. Moreover it's dimensions are large making it's fitment in hangars difficult. The S-76D is very unlikely to make a good case for this competition. Although we can never say what would happen. Because of the unlikeliness itself I think its discussion shall be just concluded.
Indian Navy is reluctant to induction of HAL Dhruv even though a strong push is being made. Many voices have even accused the Navy of being biased and it's RFI tweaked in favour of Airbus AS565 Panther. Indian HAL Dhruv program is an undoubted success story and the wide range of variants is a proof of what HAL is capable of delivering. Already, Sonar winch, torpedo and many other trials were carried out for the Indian Navy at their behest (even though it was known that they may not accept the naval variant). The ship envelope was demonstrated on the smallest deck the Indian Navy could provide. An article on LiveFist website said that, ALH Mk III with 5.75 T is under production as per present on-going contract with Indian Navy. HAL is offering a re-configured version of Mk III ALH as NUH by removing some systems which are not required for NUH (rear main tank, surveillance radar, sonar/sonics, conventional VUHF system and high intensity strobe light) while adding some other systems (two segment blade folding, tail boom folding, software defined radio, torpedo, slewing SL, weather radar, weight reduced LRUs) to meet NUH NSQR including performance and mission requirements within a truncated All Up Weight of 5T.
However, as the basic ALH platform is capable of an All Up Weight of 5.75 T, Navy will have the flexibility to carry additional payload of 750 kgs or have longer range/endurance in certain missions. The ALH will thus offer the Indian Navy the flexibility to add 1.25 T of useful load (fuel or mission payload) in case a mission so demands. This is a valuable option which the Indian Navy seems to be ignoring at this point of time. Other key advantages being ignored are that no new production facility will be needed for manufacturing as per strategic partnership model. Being a common platform with other variants the spare parts supply will not just be smooth,but since it is procured by local vendors, these vendors will get an additional income and experience. When the product reaches its end phase of service a huge amount of costs have to be poured in just to keep the foreign vendors alive while that product is dead in that country, take MiG-27 and MiG-21 for example. If Navy selects a HAL product this drain of foreign exchange will be controlled.
Capabilities of HAL's Helicopters
HAL has come a long way in developing helicopters and have seen it's own ups and downs, mostly after sanctions on India post Pokhran Nuclear Tests. But what HAL has been able to achieve nobody in India did. Many HAL employees who either retired or leave voluntarily are highly sought after in private sector because of their knowledge and skills, obviously this is a result of a technology filled work culture. Initially it began with transfer of technologies of HAL Cheetah and Chetak. Today HAL can manufacture them independently. HAL developed the ALH initially with consultancy support from MBB of Germany, it said that the consultants abruptly left the project unfinished and HAL had to pull up socks. But some internet trolls who watch ₹2 worth videos on youtube made by another Internet trolls who have zero knowledge of work culture in manufacturing and R&D complain about delays in work. Today many private companies in India and DRDO can supply the avionics necessary for a flying machine.
HAL has a good experience in weapons integration and integration of various subsystems. India has the capability to manufacture components made of super alloys, carbon composites, single crystal blades, avionics, optronics, radar components, communication equipments, mission computers and what not. The level of experience HAL gained while developing multiple ALH varinats, the LCH and LUH gives it the confidence to bring in more development in an NUH. Even many components of the Shakti engine are made in India from scratch.
Problem with Foreign Weapons.
For the sake of example imagine a just married 25 year old girl has been put into competition with a 60 year old woman who had been a housewife all her life, who do you think would make better food. I am not trying to be misogynistic here but you got the point. the experience of a mature woman is seen in her work and cannot be matched by a naive young person. Whenever a foreign experienced weapons manufacturer comes in India as a partner and helps us make weapons it would definitely bring their experience induced expertise, their manufacturing precision, industrial safety, stringent quality standards with them. When our industry partners would see this world leader of weapons in action for first time it is obvious that we would get to learn a lot.
These world leaders in weapons manufacturing have devoted money, resources, emotions and national pride in what they have produced. They will bring us the technology but nobody can conquer their knowledge. Because of the criticality of technology or the additional costs in setting up of advanced manufacturing facilities in India and creating skilled labour to operate those facilities here, foreign vendors tend to just directly supply critical parts as "kits", for ex. the transmission and critical engine components. If asked for setting up manufacturing facilities in India for a greater level of transfer of knowledge of critical components, they ask for an extortionate costs which results in huge cost price of the end product. For ex. Su-30MKI manufactured in India is costlier than what Russians spend on manufacturing of Su-30SM. So even after Indian industries gaining the expertise the cost of manufacturing still drains money.
HAL has through the years developed a network of vendor support base that can produce spare parts at an even more cheaper rates if more and more orders are given. Thus a repeat order of an offshoot of any product costs much less. The best solution is partnership of HAL that's being a PSU has the financial capability of taking risks in R&D and private sector who has the capability of making cheap durable products. The private sector if involved from Design stage produce excellent results as seen during the IGMDP program. This same is being done for HAL AMCA.
Out of all the above mentioned contenders the Airbus AS565 Panther seems the front runner. India's newfound emotional attachment with France being a supporter at UNSC just like Russia may drive the weapons procurement. It must be understood that in Geopolitics their are no friends or enemies either. The AS565 Panther and other contenders are obviously good and in some aspects better than HAL Dhruv based NUH. But their are many reasons why HAL NUH should be the one.