Navy looking for more helicopters

The Indian Navy has issued a Request For Information for a second batch of Multi-Role Helicopters, even with the existing tender process for 16 helicopters still under way. Unlike the earlier tender, the new RFI is also taking Life Cycle Cost into consideration as part of the assessment process.

T he Indian Navy has issued a Request For Information (RFI) for a second batch of Multi-Role Helicopters (MRH), even with the existing tender process for a USD 1 billion order for 16 helicopters still under way.

The RFI reads, “The Ministry of Defence, Government of India, intends to augment the fleet of existing multi role helicopters (ASW/ASUW/Special Ops Commando) with suitable new-build Naval Multi Role Helicopters (NMRH), with comparable performance and ASW, ASuW, SAR, ELINT and Special Operation / Commando operation capabilities. The basic helicopter for all three roles viz ASW, ASuW and Special Operation / Commando should be same with common airframe, engines, avionics etc for ease of maintenance training and Op-logistics issues. Capability should exist in the helicopter for role specific configurations to be achieved with ease.”

The navy shopping around for a second time is being seen as a result of the the increasing requirement for Multi Role Helicopters, keeping in mind the decreasing life of the navy’s Sea King helicopters. The actual number of aircraft required by the navy this time will only be known once a Request for Proposal (RFP) is issued after the conclusion of the RFI process. The navy is looking for two variants, for Special Operations and Anti Submarine/Surface Warfare.

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According to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in 2010, the age of the Sea King 42A variants is now 31 and 42B variant helicopters 23. The life of both variants was supposed to be 20 years or 3000 flight hours.

The report said, less than 40 per cent of ASW helicopters and less than 60 per cent of the commando and utility helicopters were operationally available to constitute Unit Establishment (UE) of the respective squadrons of the navy.

The 31 year-old Kamov-25 ASW helicopters have been doing only a fourth of the Annual Flight Task hours mandated by the government and have been recommended for phase out.

The report says the navy’s requirement for around 60 ASW Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) ‘has not materialized at all due to the inability of HAL to meet the laid down NSQRs (Naval Staff Qualitative Requirements).’ “The reason cited for the failure of ASW version was that the weapons and sensors as envisaged in the NSQRs could be met only by a 10 tonne class helicopter and not by a 5.5 tonne class of helicopter like ALH,” said the report.

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New Consideration: Life Cycle Cost

Unlike the earlier tender, the new RFI is also taking Life Cycle Cost into consideration as part of the assessment process. “All vendors are to suggest the life cycle costing model, including but not limited to cost of acquiring, operating and maintaining these helicopters for a life span of thirty years from date of acceptance (without any commercial quotes at this stage), as a proposal for adopting while working out the Life cycle costing model for the NMRH for arriving at L1 vendor decision,” says the RFI.

Looking forward to responding to the new RFI, Air Vice Marshal AJS Walia, Managing Director of Sikorsky Helicopters in India, has welcomed this move to consider Life Cycle Cost. The former Indian Air Force (IAF) officer says, “This will add to the competition and provide better value to the Indian Navy.”

Sikorsky’s S70-B and Augusta Westland’s NH-90 helicopters are due to face trials in the earlier tender, which is expected to culminate by the end of this year. The MH-60R ‘Romeo’ offered jointly by Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky and the US Navy was removed from consideration after the navy and defense ministry acquisition teams took issue with a perceived lack of clarity on the commitments being made by the each of the three vendors offering the aircraft.

The MH-60R has been selected by the Australian Defense Forces for its naval multi role rotary wing fleet. The order for 24 helicopters, is the first time the aircraft is being supplied outside the United States. According to a statement issued by Lockheed Martin, the first two helicopters will be delivered by 2014. It is understood that the Indian RFI will receive a response for the Romeo as well.

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Follow Saurabh Joshi on Twitter @ http://www.twitter.com/saurabhjoshi Saurabh is a journalist based in New Delhi, India who has worked in print, television as well as internet news media. Besides defense and strategy, his past assignments have included reporting from Kashmir, coverage of terror strikes as well as election coverage from all over India. He has a Bachelors degree in Journalism (Honors) as well as a law degree (LLB), both from the University of Delhi.
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