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October 9, 2014

Modi government's ‘Make in India’ gets firepower with LUH deal


The Narendra Modi government is moving swiftly on its plan to indigenise defence production by acquiring 197 light-utility helicopters (LUH) for the armed forces from local firms. It has called a meeting of the domestic companies concerned on October 22 to discuss the request for information (RfI) that was issued in the last week of September.

The government issued an RfI on September 28 to local vendors for reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters (which are LUH) for the Army Aviation Corps (AAC) and the Indian Air Force (IAF), the last date for which is November 28. This follows the termination of the long overdue LUH tender for 197 machines.

The Defence Acquisitions Council led by defence minister Arun Jaitley has decided that the 197 helicopters (that were to be procured from foreign vendors) and 187 helicopters that are in the process of being produced at state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) needed by the armed forces to replace their ageing Cheetah/Chetak fleets will be made in India with foreign collaboration. The step will boost the indigenous defence production sector, and is in tune with Modi’s exhortation to global companies to “Make in India”.

India sought to address the Chetak/Cheetah obsolescence issue by issuing a request for proposals to foreign manufacturers as far back as 2003. This LUH requirement included 197 aircraft, 133 for the army and the rest to the IAF.

In 2007, India was on the verge of declaring a winner with the Eurocopter AS550 C3 Fennec edging out the Bell Textron 407.

However, the whole competition was nullified and subsequently relaunched as the reconnaissance and surveillance helicopter (RSH) in 2008. The 197-helicopter deal that was scrapped for the third time over the last decade in August had Russia’s Kamov-226T and the Eurocopter AS550 C3 Fennec locked in competition since 2008.

Repeated delays in procuring new LUHs resulted in the AAC and the IAF opting for 30-35 stopgap Cheetahs from HAL three years ago.

HAL, which is currently working on developing 187 three-tonne LUHs sanctioned by the Cabinet Committee on Security in February 2009 for the armed forces, targets a first flight by next year. With the scrapping of the RSH/LUH programme, HAL has the opportunity to make up for lost time and ensure no further slippages in acquiring systems and getting the chopper off the ground on time next year.

According to a senior official at HAL, “The company's helicopter division has decided to push full throttle on the LUH programme. Land has been acquired in Tumkur in Karnataka for manufacturing the indigenous LUH where a full-fledged helicopter facility is being set up to deal with growing market for the helicopters in the country.”

Commenting on the development, HAL chairman RK Tyagi said, “This will give a boost to indigenisation, and HAL and other organisations have the confidence to take on the challenge.” 
 
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