Friday, October 2, 2009

India Medium-Lift Helo Program Faces More Delays

By vivek raghuvanshi

NEW DELHI - India's homegrown Medium Lift Helicopter project has been grounded as state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) has failed to find global partners to co-develop the helicopter.

HAL has broken off negotiations with Eurocopter of France and Mil Design Bureau of Russia. One of the companies was to have been awarded the contract for co-development of the program.

Sources in the Indian Defence Ministry said the Medium Lift Helicopter program is already delayed and cannot be delayed further. As such, they say, a procurement is to be made from the global market, though the HAL project also will stay.


HAL has been looking for global partners to co-develop the 10-metric-ton helicopter for use by the Indian Navy, Army and Air Force. The state-owned company has been negotiating with Eurocopter and Mil Design Bureau for two years, but no vendor has received a final selection.


An official from HAL, however, said the project is still on, adding that the technical and financial details offered by Eurocopter and Mil Design Bureau could not be synchronized with HAL requirements. The official gave no details.


Indian defense forces need to deploy a medium-lift, 10-ton helicopter to replace aging Russian-made Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters. There is a total demand of more than 350 Medium Lift Helicopters by the three wings of the Indian defense forces, with a major requirement from the Indian Navy.

The Navy asked the Defence Ministry in March to purchase medium-lift helicopters from the overseas market, citing delays in HAL's co-development project.


HAL took up the Medium Lift Helicopter program nearly five years ago, and the program is still in the drawing-room stage. Further delays in the procurement of the helicopter will affect the combat worthiness of the Indian Navy, said a senior Navy official.


The Navy wants the medium-lift chopper for combat and rescue missions, while the Army and Air Force want the helicopters mainly for logistics purposes.


Last year, HAL bagged an order for 187 Light Observation Helicopters, while the remaining order for 197 copters was floated globally. Sources in the Defence Ministry said HAL is on a global hunt to find partners to speed up that program, so that the Army can take delivery of the helicopters by 2014.


But the Light Observation Helicopter program also is delayed, as the Defence Ministry canceled the procurement process for 197 helicopters at the final stage, in which Eurocopter emerged as the front-runner against Bell Helicopter of the United States. However, following Bell's complaints on issues of transparency in the procurement process, the government decided to cancel the contest and seek fresh bids.


The Army and Air Force need new light helicopters to replace about 300 aging Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. HAL is developing the 3-metric-ton Light Observation Helicopter and the program is on track, said a HAL official.

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