In a statement that is likely to bolster their case for supplying the Indian Navy with Multi Role Helicopters, Sikorsky has said that it is open to manufacturing the helicopters in India.
Air Vice Marshal AJS Walia, retired from the Indian Air Force and Managing Director, India and South Asia for Sikorsky Aircraft, told StratPost, “If we win we have no hesitation in bringing the Blackhawk product line to India.” He also said this could include other variants for the two other services as well.
The Indian Navy is currently considering the responses to its tender for Multi Role Helicopters and flight evaluations are expected to commence in the next few months. “We’re waiting for them to give us the flight evaluation dates,” says Air Marshal Walia.
Sikorsky is pitching not only its Seahawk, but is also part of the pitch to the Indian Navy with the MH-60 R helicopter. “The stakeholders in the 60 Romeo are the US Navy, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky,” he says. Besides this, Sikorsky is also offering to lease helicopters to the Indian Coast Guard. We have responded to the requirements of the Indian Coast Guard to dry lease eight helicopters. And we are the only ones who could comply with the mission requirements,” says Walia, adding, “Our commercial bid was opened and we are waiting for commercial negotiations to start.
Sikorsky is already building cabins for the S-92 in India and, while delivery is expected to begin by the end of this year, the company plans to start manufacturing entire helicopters here in the next few years. “The first cabin is being delivered in November. And the next two by December, and then slowly the capacity is going to be ramped up,” explains Walia, adding, “Our roadmap is to produce a full helicopter in India, by 2015 or 2016. Cabins are being made, components starting, next would be wiring, then would be integration, and so on. All these activities have been worked out and maybe by 2015-16 we’ll have a helicopter produced by Sikorsky in India.”
While Sikorsky has come to the Indian market only recently, it does have a longer association with India. “The first Sikorsky helicopter was provided to the Indian government – I think it was in March 1954. That was the first helicopter that arrived. And it is still available as an antique piece at the Palam Air Force Museum,” points out Air Marshal Walia.
“We came back into this market about two and half years back,” he says, and offers a report card. “There are three (helicopters) already operating – two are on the way. That makes it five machines. Plus one 76 D is on order, which is the subsequent version of the 76 C ++.”
Walia is emphatic about Sikorsky’s commitment to the Indian market. “As far as United Technologies is concerned the mission is now to provide and support the Indian government, defense requirements as well as the commercial requirements in the same way and manner that United Technologies does for the United States and its defense forces. We are now saying that India is and will be the most important market for Sikorsky and United Technologies. United Technologies will treat the Indian government and the Indian market as they treat the US government and the US market.”
There are good reasons for this level of commitment. “If you look at history, today the Indian armed forces have reached a time where almost all machines in aviation are due for replacement, specially the helicopter fleets. And the Indian armed forces’ requirements are huge. Not only the existing inventory but also with the expanded role that is being assigned to the armed forces – the number(s) (required) are going to increase dramatically,” says Walia, adding, “All this shows huge potential for the growth of the helicopter market in this country, as far as defense (procurement) is concerned.”
“And that is where the Sikorsky comes in because it has solutions for all these requirements. We are not only willing to provide those solutions, we are also willing to co-develop with the Indian business community or the Indian government to make it more of an indigenous product,” he says, pointing out, “Sikorsky has not come as an offshoot of offsets requirements. We have started our activities in India irrespective of offsets or the need to have offsets. So that makes clear our intentions of making India our second home. Offsets will be an offshoot, a by-product.”
Walia is also very excited about Sikorsky’s X-2 demonstrator aircraft. “The helicopter’s going to be flying at about 500 kilometers (per hour), while retaining and maintaining the conventional characteristics of a helicopter,” he says, distinguishing it from the tilt-rotor Bell Boeing V-22, “It will continue to operate as a helicopter, as against the Osprey which becomes a fixed-wing (aircraft).”
“It’ll (X-2) have counter-rotating rotors. Instead of the tail rotor, we have a pusher propeller. And that pusher propeller provides the speed. As of today a demonstrator is flying. And we hope to achieve the milestone of clocking 250 – 270 knots (463 kmph – 500 kmph) by the end of this year, taking it closer to a speed of 500 kilometer (per hour),” he says.
Air Marshal Walia is confident of the versatility of the X-2. “You name a thing and you can do it. Whether it is transporting troops, logistics, evacuation or commercial operations,” he says, even submitting that with its speed and Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) abilities, it will compete as an alternative to fixed wing business aircraft.
“Take small jets that fly at a speed of 600 – 700 kmph. This will be a viable proposition because its a versatile machine. It doesn’t require a full length of paved runway, or the ATC (Air Traffic Control) and various aids. It can just take off once clearance is filed with the ATC.” He points out that a person boarding a fixed wing aircraft will spend more time traveling because the travel could include taxiing time and orbiting time during the unavailability of a runway in peak hours, besides check-in time and time spent on travel to airports.
The X-2 is likely to take between three to five years before it can be certified by the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).