HAL keen to supply Navy with light utility helicopters.
Putting its hat in the ring for a naval requirement of light utility helicopters, state-owned aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has asked the defence ministry to consider its indigenous chopper as well, against just looking at international companies like Airbus and Bell for replacements.
Sources have told ET that the state-owned company has informed the defence ministry about the progress in its light utility helicopter (LUH) programme that undertook its first first flight in September 2016 and is planned for production starting this year.
Making a pitch for considering a naval variant of this helicopter for the requirement of 111Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), the company has written that rS 400 crore has already been invested into the programme and it can be used by the navy instead of relying on imports.
The NUH programme is a key priority for the Navy that wants to retire its ageing Chetak fleet and is short of rotary wing aircraft for warships at sea. The NUH programme for 111 choppers is currently being pursued under the strategic partnership (SP) programme that involved selecting a foreign developed chopper to be made in India with the private industry.
At least three companies are in the fray for this order — the European Airbus, American Bell and Russian Kamov. While formal tenders are yet to be floated, a request for information has yielded replies from the companies and consultations are currently on within the defence ministry to take forward the process. Indian companies that are keen to make the chopper under the SP model include Mahindra (which had an MoU with Airbus), Tata and the Kalyani Group
It is yet to be seen whether the HAL pitch will make it eligible to qualify for the tendering process once the defence ministry manages to sort out how to proceed with the SP model. The HAL developed chopper which is currently undergoing trials is a 3.1 tonne aircraft that is designed to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleet.
The program has been in the works since 2008 when the armed forces projected a requirement for a light chopper that could carry troops and supplies to all border areas. The chopper if powered by a Shakti engine in collaboration with French firm Turbomeca. A new production facility is to be built for the LUH project.
HAL is also working on a project with Russian Helicopters to build 200 of the KA 226 light choppers in India as part of a government to government deal. A tender for the KA 226 order was issued earlier this month.