The Indian Navy's Helicopters and purchases plans

Gautam

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To all Gurus/senior members, good day sirs, is the range of the naval version sufficient for the NUH role
Well I am no expert but here is my two cents paisa.

The NUH is a very large category because there are a lot of roles that a NUH is expected to perform. Thus there is no real size limit to how big or small a NUH can be. This is also why many navies develop special variant of NUH for specialised jobs. MH-60R is a variant of the SH-60. Thus by traditional nomenclature the HAL's proposed helo is a NUH. Is it an NUH the Navy wants ? Only they can answer.
with the advertised fuel capacity above, does this fuel include reserves too, if so how much would be reserve volume. Also can the fuel capacity increased further by design, or by carrying drop tanks like fixed wings or modular aux fuel tanks installed inside the crew space for specific missions. Thank you
The spec sheet is fine. And those numbers are not final. Additional fuel capacity can increase range by around 15 %.
 

Ashwin

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To all Gurus here, is the fuel capacity mentioned in


To all Gurus/senior members, good day sirs, is the range of the naval version sufficient for the NUH role (As required by IN) with the advertised fuel capacity above, does this fuel include reserves too, if so how much would be reserve volume. Also can the fuel capacity increased further by design, or by carrying drop tanks like fixed wings or modular aux fuel tanks installed inside the crew space for specific missions. Thank you
RFI will clarify the most :
NUH - https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/sites/default/files/tender_document/22_AUG_NUH_RFI_OEM_UPLOADED_ON_WEBSITE.pdf

NMRH - https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/sites...nt/22_AUG_17_NMRH_RFI_UPLOADED.pdf?download=1
 
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Make the Naval utility helicopter an example of Atma Nirrbharta

Just as Indian Navy reached the threshold of opening doors to private sector participation in indigenous helicopter manufacturing, a series of seemingly unconnected high-level interventions and policy announcements have turned the spotlight back on the Indian Navy’s Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) project.

In a sudden turn of events nobody foresaw, novel initiatives from the incumbent government came up against the Novel Coronavirus-19 (Covid-19) pandemic. A global recession stares us in the face. Shrunk defence budgets are a grim reality now for the foreseeable future.

The Indian Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat was quoted saying “the Indian Armed Forces must not go in for large amounts of imports by misrepresenting our operational requirements”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed India on May 12, 2020 on Covid-19 with a forceful plea to make India atma nirbhar or self-reliant. Following PM Modi’s speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman unveiled a slew of ‘big-bang’ reforms, some of which will shape the future of ‘Make in India’ for defence.

In policy matters, two-plus-two don’t always add up to four. Public pronouncements at a high level can have intended and unintended consequences. Recent news reports indicate that “companies have been asked to explain if the (NUH) programme has export potential”. The government may also consider giving defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) a chance to enter the NUH competition.

Whither Strategic Partnership?

The Strategic Partnership (SP) model was introduced by Indian MoD as Chapter VII in DPP 2016 based on recommendations put up by the Shri Dhirendra Singh Expert Committee. The objective of SP was to create capabilities in the private sector for manufacturing key defence technologies. Military helicopters were identified as one of them. This was in addition to the already well-established capabilities of DPSU and Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). Capacity building, more players in the market, wider choices, healthy competition, potential to make and export – the possibilities are immense. The user (services), in turn, would stand to reap rich harvests from the new paradigm.

Imagine USA or Europe where aerospace & defence (A&D) majors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Bell Flight, Leonardo, Northrop Grumman, etc. (with a thriving ecosystem of smaller private sub-contractors) compete head to head for every slice of the defence pie. Now look around Indian DPSUs and OFBs. Organisationally, culturally and functionally, they resemble relics from an era gone by. In the 21st Century, we still do not manufacture here in India a helicopter (or modern fighter) that is globally accepted or even considered fair competition.

SP’s First-born – Naval Utility Helicopter

IN’s Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) program became one of the first projects allotted to SP. It’s not as if the navy is an ideal candidate for such experiments. Quite the obverse, actually. The IN has barely enough helicopters to retain self-respect. Yet, to its credit, IN took the lead; with hope that the long-standing capability void left behind by HAL’s ALH Dhruv would get filled. This also aligned with progressive government policy.

The Department of Defence Production (DDP) that is responsible for all DPSUs and OFBs recently questioned the very basis for allotting NUH under SP. Through a series of letters drafted by their consultant early this year, DDP argued that since HAL-designed ALH meets all naval requirements, it should be the obvious choice for NUH under IDDM – ‘Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured’ category. In the least, MoD should issue the NUH Request for Proposal (RfP) to HAL as well, they contended. HAL has been quoted that they are “generally in agreement” with the consultant’s views.

A system fine-tuned to reward DPSUs?

Whether this is part of a larger canvas for self-reliance and nation-building, or lobbying by HAL to get ‘foot in the door’ at a critical stage of the NUH-SP program, we may never know. But it is neither unique nor surprising. Not a single case for defence equipment moved by any service can see the light of day without DDP and its cohorts drawing blood. Many cases reach fruition through them, some despite them. Many flounder due enforced U-turns the services had no way of countering except file notings opaque to the world.

In this regard, naval aviation remains one of the biggest losers among all three services. The IAF managed to induct many medium lift helicopters, Apaches & Chinooks, even as they kept HAL’s order books busy with the ALH. For the Indian Army that grew up on Cheetahs and Chetaks, the ALH Mk III or Rudra is manna from heaven. They invested in the ALH in a big way, learning many lessons along the way. In last two decades, all that the navy has inducted in rotary wing are eight shore-based ALH, six UH-3H resurrected from a boneyard in USA, and a handful of AEW KM-31 bought from Russia.

Key decisions lined-up ahead

Recent reports in media would have us believe that IN’s entire exercise of building a case for NUH – starting from 2008 when the specifications were first written – was to walk into the arms of foreign vendors or flush foreign exchange down the drain. If such views are considered on merit, it raises some interesting questions.
Firstly, why did the NUH – a government-approved Strategic Partnership (SP) program under PM Narendra Modi’s flagship ‘Make in India’ banner – ever get MoD approval in the first place, that too for the navy which faces the most acute shortfall in helicopters? Secondly, why did HAL wake up in the 21st Century to offer the same product (Dhruv) that forced IN to look for other options because it failed to meet their expectations in the last century?

The naval scope creep that saw NUH specifications inflate from 4.5-tons to 5-tons maximum takeoff weight (MTOW), thereby bringing it closer to ALH (5.5-ton MTOW), drew more competitors, including HAL, into the fray. Fear of losing out on a INR 21738 Cr deal ($3bn), missed opportunities, and a lacklustre naval order book could be contributory factors for intervention by HAL/DDP.

A time-tested strategy

This strategy of waiting in the wings, using formal and informal access to corridors of power, exploiting benevolence of policymakers, defending critical gaps in quality or low productivity with futuristic promises, toying around ad-infinitum with ‘children of monopoly’ that derail or fall short of the services’ expectations, and then – at crucial decision points such as this – jumping to throw a spanner into the works, this is a time-tested, low-cost option often exercised by DPSUs and DRDO laboratories.

In the absence of credible competition from the private sector, this has spelt doom and run aground many projects the three services formulated with great enthusiasm. Vested interests often betray an elephantine yet selective memory that play-up, very conveniently, only one side of the story. How soon we forget past pain and expensive lessons!

Customer is king or customer is kind?

India would not be one of the world’s largest importer of arms if the DPSUs and OFBs were a hallmark of efficiency. Unlike shipbuilding, where many shipyards and PSUs compete with each other, in aerospace, HAL wields complete monopoly in India.

To be sure, the ALH is yet to meet its own 35 year-old naval staff qualitative requirements (NSQRs) in key areas such as range and endurance, blade folding, stowed dimensions, aircraft availability and serviceability. These are non-negotiable specifications for helicopters that operate for extended duration at sea. The navy did not stumble upon this non-compliance yesterday or in last Aero India air show. This has been the case from the time the Dhruv first took to sea. Even today, the naval ALH is not a platform of choice for a naval warship proceeding out of harbour.

The navy’s 2-decade indulgence with naval Dhruv has left it with a product whose manufacturer claims today that a new blade fold solution will be fielded soon. This after three decades of dealing with NSQRs. What couldn’t be achieved over 30 years is now proposed to be made ready in months. A segmented-blade proposal flying on the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and a mock-up of tail boom folding showcased during Aero India 2019 are the latest offerings. None of this has been flight tested or proven on the machine. If mock-ups and promises could fly, we would’ve had a fleet of Dhruvs occupying empty decks and cavernous hangars on every other IN warship’s deck.

A grim caution

Looking through this chimera, I feel, we may be about to repeat old mistakes.

Firstly, all promises and timelines quoted by DPSUs must be treated with deep circumspection. This is a system plagued with “caveat emptor” or “buyers beware”, a nebulous sense of purpose, and no meaningful competition. Nobody is accountable to draw tough red lines or admit ‘it cannot be done’. It is just not there in our system. Services and HAL are equally complicit in this incest.

With the benefit of hindsight, even a layman could have predicted in early 90s that the NSQRs would be compromised in favour of IAF and army specs (and numbers) that drove the ALH program. But dissenting voices were either ignored or simply outrun with the sheer staying power of a government entity.

Such an outlook eventually breeds a complacent attitude, poor quality products and compromises on essential requirements. This takes nothing away from the capability of our workers, scientists, engineers or test crew. It is just the way any system would work in the total absence of competition. The SP model was meant to take this down by levelling the field for private industry.

Aircraft availability is a key metric for the navy where ALH has failed to impress. Low aircraft availability translates to higher maintenance reserve and high ground time a seagoing force can ill-afford. HAL’s repeated efforts to sell ALH to civil operators bears testimony to its commercial viability. To date, all exports of the ALH have been unsuccessful.

Realistic costing

Any arguments on the lines of ‘ALH is the cheaper option’ should be weighed against cost of product development and testing. If all the naval manhours, ships, submarines and consorts, opportunity costs, grounded helicopters, capability gaps because of undelivered promises, operational logistics, etc. are accounted & costed for, an alarming figure will emerge. This is true for products from most DRDO laboratories and DPSUs.

For example, costs associated with testing sensors for hundreds of hours, with consort ships (120+ uniformed souls onboard) standing by, shore bases activated, submarines deployed for months – all this must be factored against projected lower costs of products from the DPSU stable.

Any arguments on saving foreign exchange by buying local should also take into account realistic estimate of indigenisation achieved on the ALH. Then again, selling these machines to a local, captive audience simply circulates money within different government departments. Why not set the bar higher, make local and export globally, thereby drawing foreign exchange into government coffers?

Redefining indigenisation from a public-private perspective

Indigenisation needs to be redefined from a private-public, collaborative, win-win perspective. It doesn’t have to mean everything made in India. An aeroplane or aero-engine is more than the sum of its parts. Today, we have a unique chance to walk the talk’ by engaging with private sector in defence by placing orders, not sloganeering.

It is 2020. The IN still doesn’t have an indigenous helicopter with seamless interface across all decks – one that sets a benchmark for navies worldwide. We have the unique opportunity today to infuse fresh blood into a languid system by tapping private sector resources. At this crucial juncture, IN must stay the course and the MoD must give private players a fair chance. HAL had more than their say and opportunities for over three decades. That did not get IN the capability it needs as of yesterday. To me, this displays indifference and lack of understanding on what actually constitutes a world-class naval helicopter.

Conclusion

The IN needs real capability; one that brooks no concessions. We need helicopters that can remain at sea without cringing or making the crew cringe; without having to break parts; without having to burn holes into hangar bulkheads. To HAL’s credit, it still has order books brimming with ALH & its derivatives, a fair chance with the Ka-226T offered through Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd (a JV of HAL & Russian Helicopters) and also the prospect of supporting strategic partners and MSMEs by becoming a Tier-2 supplier under the NUH-SP program. Then there is the Indian MRH / Naval MRH. I see a win-win situation for all sides, including HAL, if we are able to make SP model work and create synergies to manufacture world-class helicopters, not only for India but for the world.

If there is anything HAL needs most today, it is competition, not orders on a platter.

Inducting machines in the 21st Century that give a net endurance of 30 minutes with dunking sonar and lightweight torpedo proves only one thing – we learnt NOTHING from the naval ALH experience.

The MoD must take some tough decisions. Naval requirements are unique and demand a product designed from the sea level up. Through private industry participation in defence manufacturing we must aim to achieve parity with countries like USA and China, even Japan, that have harnessed the power of collaboration with clearly defined (& delivered) outcomes.

The ALH is a wonderful machine. Indian Navy’s two decade ‘social distancing’ from this helicopter was not out of any bias, but out of fundamental incompatibilities. The lessons from this experience must shape our decisions for the future.

HAL can be a friend, philosopher and guide to the nascent Indian rotary industry. The rising tide of “atma nirbharta (self-reliance) must lift all boats.
 
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Ashwin

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The naval scope creep that saw NUH specifications inflate from 4.5-tons to 5-tons maximum takeoff weight (MTOW), thereby bringing it closer to ALH (5.5-ton MTOW), drew more competitors, including HAL, into the fray. Fear of losing out on a INR 21738 Cr deal ($3bn), missed opportunities, and a lacklustre naval order book could be contributory factors for intervention by HAL/DDP.
This was exactly my observation.
 

_Anonymous_

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The NUH doesn't have to be cutting edge state of the art stuff. The latter are attributes which front line platforms like offensive or defensive weapons ought to have. Supporting platforms for want of better use of nomenclature like utility helos, tankers, SAR, AEW&C, etc can & should be favouring local platforms especially if the difference between these platforms & foreign ones aren't too much.

As regards performance parameters, design characteristics, endurance , durability & serviceablility of such platforms, it must be ensured that they stick to the SQR's as far as possible. A slight compromise on the SQR's in favour of domestic platforms is par for the course & Not daylight between indigenous ones & foreign ones.

I think the entire SP model ought to focus primarily on offensive & defensive platforms & not supporting platforms unless we don't have an alternative as far as the latter goes.
 
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One of the important policy reforms announcements done by the government in defence manufacturing in India last week was allowing foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to invest up to 74 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in defence ventures in India. In the medium to long run, this could be a welcome measure but in the meantime, the proposals pending with the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) will have to be quickly cleared since there are critical gaps that Indian armed forces are faced with.
One ready example is the long drawn out saga of procuring utility helicopters for the Indian Navy. First proposed in 2008, the case for replacement of the Chetak helicopters was projected under Buy global’ category of procurement. For six years, nothing happened. In 2014, the DAC directed the Indian Navy to withdraw the case and initiate a new proposal under ‘Buy and Make (Indian). The next year, in 2015, the DAC again directed Navy to combine the requirement with the overall ‘Consolidated Helicopter Acquisition Strategy.’ Later, the DAC decided to progress the case under the strategic partnership (SP) model. The acceptance of necessity (AON)— the first step in the long road towards procuring a platform–was accorded in August 2018, three years after it was decided to go the Strategic Partnership (SP) model way!
So what is the SP model?
In July 2015, the Dhirendra Singh Committee on Make in India mooted the idea of SP Model for creating capacity in the Private Sector as an alternate to DPSUs/ PSUs in strategic sectors of defence manufacturing. Later, Dr Atre Task Force recommended the Model to be followed which did away with the bidding system. However, this was retained and Chapter 7 on SP Model was included in the DPP.
The then Minister of State for Defence, Dr Subhash Bhamre in a reply to Rajya Sabha stated, “SP Model would provide a Transparent, Objective and Functional mechanism to encourage broader participation of Private Sector in addition to DPSUs/OFB’. ‘It will provide greater self-reliance in meeting national security objectives’. This is also included in the Preamble of Chapter 7. It reads, in parts:
  • Definition of SP Model vide Para 3 – “Such a partnership between the MoD and the Indian private Entity will be known as Strategic Partnership”.
  • “Overall aim will be to build indigenous capability in the Private Sector to design, develop and manufacture complex weapon systems”.
  • “….private companies have pointed to the lack of a level playing field as compared to DPSUs/OFs”.
  • “As with liberalization of economy in 1990s, involvement of Private Sector in defence manufacturing will have a transformational impact”.
While Para 9 of Chapter 7 states that “MoD may consider the role of DPSUs/OFBs at the appropriate stage(s) keeping in view the order book position, capacity and price competitiveness,” Para 18 of amplifying instructions issued to Chapter 7 at a later date clarify “At the accord of AoN, DAC shall consider the participation of DPSUs/PSUs in the specific proposal keeping in view the order book position, capacity and price competitiveness”.
So in keeping with the above, the DAC before giving approval to AON for the Naval Utility Helicopters had indeed discussed the participation of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), a DPSU.
That time, according to all available figures, the HAL’s order book was overflowing even when it did not have the commensurate capacity.
Order Book Position vs Capacity of HAL in 2018
Total orders = 353 helicopters and 83 LCAs
  • Ka 226T : 200
  • LUH :15 (10 IAF+ 05 IA)
  • ALH : 77 (16 IN+16 CG+45 IA)
  • ALH(WSI): 18 (IA)
  • Chetak/ Cheetah – 43 (25 IA+08 IN+10 IAF)
The Navy had pointed out over the years that despite knowing its requirements, HAL had not been able to provide it with a shipborne helicopter since 2003 when the first Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) was delivered to the Navy. And yet, HAL, using various means has managed to insert itself as a competitor for the NUH which has now become a critical necessity for the Navy, further delaying the project, defence sources point out. Apart from a poor track record in meeting deadlines, HAL does not meet cost competitiveness in the NUH proposal either. According to one calculation, the cost of an advanced fully equipped helicopters in ALH class is between13 to 18 Million US dollars whereas the cost of the ALH is estimated to be around 16 million US dollars. Moreover, the ALH is not yet a fully proven seaworthy platform.
Sources point out that the Indian Navy has lost five Chetak helicopters in the last 7 years. The number of Chetak helicopters available with the navy will reduce considerably by 2023 to 2025 and the navy will be faced with a major capability gap. Inclusion of HAL will result in setting back the procedure by at least another two years. The capability gap, therefore, will be a critical vulnerability of ships at sea. For this reason alone, HAL should be kept out of the competition in this particular proposal, those who have been watching the never-ending saga of NUH procurement point out.
Naval aviators have also listed out several other reasons why the ALH—proposed by HAL for the NUH competition—is not suitable. For one, the ALH does not meet the Qualitative Requirements of the Indian Navy. The helicopters being operated by the Navy presently and the 16 new ALH Mk III on order are to be operated only from the shore as they are not capable of being operated from ships.
Secondly, HAL has been indicating that it is working on the blade folding capability on ALH (a must for parking and storage on ships). However, the segmented blade folding as a concept has been rarely utilized across the world’s navy’s since it is not found to be practical. The Indian Navy is therefore in a fix. It fears that the inclusion of ALH MK III as a platform for NUH with HAL as a strategic partner will result in either or all of the following (a) Force the Indian Navy to accept a platform with reduced capabilities compromising its operational requirements.; (b) Necessitate modifications to NSQRs of NUH delaying the entire Project further and (c) Time overruns resulting in further delay in inducting this capability into the Navy.
None of the three scenarios is very palatable for a navy that is a premier security provider in the Indian Ocean and is facing increasing competition from the resurgent Chinese Navy.
Hopefully, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other members of the DAC will be sagacious enough not to force HAL’s entry into a critical project.
By: Nitin Gokhale
 

randomradio

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Too many forces at work in scuttling the navy, both internal and external.

The IN is never going to go with HAL for the NUH program. HAL's going to have to learn to live side by side with a competitor.
 

_Anonymous_

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More a reflection on the IN than the melon if you ask me. They designed the elevators of the INS Vikrant & contracted it to the Russians to accommodate the MiG-29K, the arrestor hooks were of Russian origin too & then having been dissatisfied with performance of the MiG - 29 K they sought to go in for a replacement from the West only to discover the incompatibility with the above mentioned systems.

Then there's the issue of the time each platform takes to be commissioned. Apparently as per PKS, the IN doesn't freeze it's designs when these boats undergo metal cutting or are even launched. The sub systems are selected & procured while these processes are on & if the former is delayed, the vessel sits rusting in the docks thus adding to the delays & cost. The fact that these are fabricated by DPSU's & procurement is limited to 3-4 numbers on an average further adds to the costs.

Then there's the minor issue of every vessel of the IN being oversized but underarmed. We've been given to understand that the space would be filled up at the time of MLU with state of the art weapons. On the other hand we're expected to believe that the ALH can't function as a NUH inspite of the foldable tail boom & rotors as it's overweight, oversized & single engined. All this while a Cheetah or a Chetak served them well enough for more than 4 decades in spite of it being single engined.
 
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Ashwin

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Unni Pillai (Retd), (CTP-RW) at HAL said, “The essence of SP Model is to bring in technology into the country that we don’t possess.”

This is clear misrepresentation.

SP Model para 3:
Screenshot_2020-05-30 3 pdf.png
 

Ankit Kumar

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However truthful is the thing that HAL and with some help from MoD/IAF , the Naval Dhruv program has been mishandled. The thing i feel is , that even with a SP contract to say Airbus or Sirkosky for the NUH , its atleast 3-4 years before they start delivering. In the meantime, if HAL proves that Naval Dhruv has minimum qualifications as promised by HAL itself in 2019, i say its worth a wait for another 12-18 months.

Meanwhile we can buy another batch of MH60R.
 
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Ashwin

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However truthful is the thing that HAL and with some help from MoD/IAF , the Naval Dhruv program has been mishandled. The thing i feel is , that even with a SP contract to say Airbus or Sirkosky for the NUH , its atleast 3-4 years before they start delivering. In the meantime, if HAL proves that Naval Dhruv has minimum qualifications as promised by HAL itself in 2019, i say its worth a wait for another 12-18 months.

Meanwhile we can buy another batch of MH60R.
Waiting is not an option. The current issue is about RFP (whether to qualify a DPSU or not). Which is separate from the capability of N-Dhruv. If MoD gives an exception under SP and the RFP is approved then they have time to produce a qualifiable version for trials. But it's a nonstarter because SP is tailored for the private sector. Now they are asking for canceling the tender by which navy will lose 3-4 more years.

And another batch of MH60R which is an AWS heli is not a replacement for NUH.
 

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The Truth Hurts, Says Indian Navy’s 1st Dhruv Flight Commander

By Commander YASHODHAN MARATHE (Retd.)


I’m a second generation helicopter pilot and have been flying rotary wing machines since 1989. Of course, the primary amount of flying has been on HAL built aircraft, the Chetak and the ALH and of course, the Kiran.


I’m quite saddened by the slew of remarks against a former CNS, himself a decorated pilot. HAL has often taken one or two points in which there may be a slip-up, and highlighted only these points, thereby glossing over the crux of the matter. In this case, the crux of the matter is blade folding, not the “automatic” part that inadvertently came up. I have been in the field at the helm of affairs when the Naval ALH were taken on board the aircraft carrier for the first time. The idea was to test out the helicopter in the role that it was destined for. Sadly, the maiden embarkation on board the carrier was a challenge that the helicopter could not live up to.


Blade folding is a major sticking point that is currently being discussed. The navy had specified to HAL the requirement of a 3.5 m blade-folded width right from the very start. This was based on the shipborne requirements because, after all, the helicopter would have to land on a ship and be stowed in the hangar after folding the blades. At sea the requirement is also for a quick and easy way of folding the blades. Just like the Chetak or the Kamov, or the Sea King. Logically then, HAL should have thought about this as a major design shortcoming before even offering a helicopter with any width greater than 3.5 m. The navy had contributed a fair amount of money towards the development of the indigenous helicopter, yet it is quite clear that the blade folding requirement was not given its importance even during basic design at HAL. The navy as usual was forced to accept the initial lot of helicopters under concession.


It is always the crew that are pressurised to support ‘indigenous effort’ and were as usual told to at least start flying the helicopter and gain some experience. This was for the first 8 helicopters. Today, this very acceptance of a concession is being turned around to twist the Navy’s tail by making statements like the navy and HAL should sit together to discuss these points and engage HAL to let them know what the navy wants.


As a solution about fifteen years back, HAL had made the suggestion that the Navy should accept the method where one blade remains forward and other three go back. For this, HAL actually suggested that the Navy should cut holes in the helicopter hangar for the front facing blade – classic case of making the hand fit the glove. The thing is, these suggestions are often made at the MoD level, and the impression given is that the Navy is adamant in not taking this option. Similarly, the concession given to HAL was to achieve a 5.4 m folded width to begin with, instead of 3.5 m. They could not meet even this 5.4 m, and the constant complaint in any forum was that navy cannot accept even 0.2 m more than the required width – conveniently forgetting that the 0.2 m was from the 5.4 m, not the original requirement of 3.5m.


The problem in all this is that the person on the top does not have the background and the time to understand the nuances and gets convinced that the navy is putting unreasonable demands. The segmented blade folding option was discussed way back in 2005-06, so there is no reason that HAL should not already have done this over the last fifteen years if they were serious. At that time HAL had wanted the Navy to sponsor the study and trials. There is nothing new in segmented blade folding. The Chetak has got a two-piece blade from 1960 onward. Retrofitting the ALH for segmented blade folding will not only increase weight, but should also involve hundreds of hours of testing. And I’m not sure whether to trust the results of these flight tests, given the efficacy of the rigorous testing that HAL does.


Blade-Folded.jpg



To give everyone a clear viewpoint of the blade folding procedure, there were a total of 64 loose items that had to be removed, used, fitted back at the time the kit was offered in 2005. This took over half an hour, though a timing of 22 minutes or so was demonstrated using five HAL personnel and safely on ground with no wind and no rolling and pitching of the deck. I can’t imagine five personnel being employed for folding the blade in a procedure that takes over 20 minutes. During folding on board the carrier the first helicopter became unserviceable because the lining on the blade came off as soon as we folded and put back the blades. On the second aircraft, the bolt broke. HAL will claim that they have rectified this, by putting the lining on the bolt and using a better material of the bolt. They also would have reduced the number of items. But the procedure still takes too long, and at sea, this becomes a danger from submarines to the ship which has to maintain a steady course.


To come back to the point, the biggest problem again here is that the customer which is the Indian Navy, was given a product that did not fit the bill. Once again fault is being found with the Indian Navy for not supporting indigenous development. And the crux of the matter is being diverted by focusing the attention on the term ‘automatic blade folding’ that wasn’t asked for, only a convenient and quick blade folding.


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Let us go to the testing philosophy of HAL, that many of crew felt was suspect. The (in) famous crash of the first civilian Dhruv after takeoff from Hyderabad was completely avoidable. For those of you who may not remember, the Government of Jharkhand ALH while on ferry from Hyderabad to Ranchi, lost the tail rotor at cruising altitude, and had to force-land. The aircraft was a writeoff, but the crew survived.


Before emphasising the survivability of the ALH, I’d like to point out that this failure occurred in cruise, at normal forward speed, and there was more than enough time for emergency actions, by the experienced test pilot that was flying the helicopter. If this had happened at hover, it was certain death. Now, a few months before this while ferrying a naval ALH to Visakhapatnam, the tail rotor gearbox had sheared off, and was hanging on just two supports. We could see the entire rotor disc shaking vigorously at hover, and it was quite scary. After landing, it was with horror that the crew found a nearly 8-inch portion of the tail rotor blade leading edge had flown off. This imbalance caused excessive vibrations and damage to the tail gear box. Another few minutes and this tail rotor would have flown off too.


This was a serious matter, and taken up with HAL. They provided the simplistic solution of changing the tail rotor blades and the tail gear box on board the ship, and expected the crew to fly the helicopter as if nothing had happened. When questioned about the analysis and the steps taken to prevent recurrence, the HAL staff were surprised why we were questioning their superior method of addressing the problem. To them the defective item had been replaced with another one, and voila! Good to go.


When we asked them about a similar thing happening on the new tail rotor, the answer was, “We have tested this and it is okay”. Well, the one that broke also was tested, right? In all this, we found that one more helicopter tail gearbox had a crack in a similar place (two down out of only three on board the ship). HAL remained unfazed, and claimed that the two cracks were unrelated, and other helicopter gearbox had cracked due to “over-shimming” so we were not to bother. They would replace the other gearbox too. Nice solution. Over-shimming -This had obviously been done at manufacturer facility. Why was not the person responsible for this over-shimming brought to task? If it were found that a Naval technician had missed out something important, there would be some disciplinary action if it was negligence, and a method of addressing the issue if it was procedural. Not sure if the person who signed off on the paper clearing that helicopter for flight was taken to task or not.


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At this point, HAL should have done a proper analysis of the cause and taken corrective actions of the tail rotor blade debonding. If they had done the study, then possibly the crash of the ill-fated civilian ALH on ferry from Hyderabad to Ranchi in November that year, would have been avoided. This is a clear case of, well, so many things. There were many other findings that came as a result of this accident. A peculiar one was that the CVR/FDR stopped recording after both engines were shut down. The simple fact of ensuring that the vital black box is connected to the battery when both engines were shut down had been missed out during design. So, when the generators stopped working, so did the crucial recording device. We all keep wondering what other crucial things had been missed out by design.


I’m not sure of the actual effect any disciplinary action taken after the crash of the first civilian ALH because there were many problems found in the processes being followed in manufacture of the blades. Among them, the process of manufacture of the composite tail rotor blades. The entire fleet was grounded for six to eight months until we got replacement blades. Again, these blades started showing signs of cracking up of the resin coating. HAL said it was not a problem. Photographs are scary.


There have been a few crashes on the ALH in the recent past. Two Army aviators lost their lives and in the latest one, the Army Commander was on board, when a critical component in the control chain failed. This kind of failure is unheard of in any modern helicopter, and puts a cloud on the whether the testing of any modifications is really exhaustive or just that there is some aspect missed out either by ignorance of act of omission. I do not want to elaborate further, because the cause is not yet finalised, but so many crashes in such a short time do bring about a very big trust deficit.


After this embarkation on board the aircraft carrier, there was a detailed analysis carried out internally and it was fairly well concluded that this helicopter would not meet the exacting requirements of Naval flying from ships, and the problem areas were highlighted to HAL.


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Well before we embarked the carrier, we had to contend with many other issues. The strangest one was that whenever it rained, it poured inside the cockpit. Water would come through the overhead CB panel, and pour on the collective pitch where the engine control was located. Water would drip on the instrument panel. Water would drip on the passenger seats. I remember the AME of the civilian Dhruv telling me that the ONGC Chairman when flying on board the civilian ALH once had to use a newspaper to shield himself from rain. HAL will again claim that this point has been addressed. But the main issue again begs question, why was this not checked out in design and before delivery?


As far as the Indian Navy went, we were the most problematic customers for HAL. We would demand that the helicopter be fully free from any rain water leakage, we would insist that all the documentation had to be in order, and that all instruments had to be fully functional before we left the facility. We would make sure that there was no defect on the helicopter before leaving for the unit. The crew were very sure that once we took off from the helipad to take the helicopter back, we would get no support from HAL. The advantage of the Navy was that our sailors and officers had worked with Western technologies for a very long time with the Sea King, the Sea Harrier etc. The procedures laid out from so many years of following internationally laid down standards in acceptance procedures made the Navy a very painful customer for HAL. HAL may state that they have addressed many of these problems in the Mark 3, but why should the problem been there in the first place? Would you accept a car from the dealer that leaks rain water? HAL designers and others at the plant would often claim that this was the first time they were making a helicopter, so there would be some ups and downs. This excuse even then was completely untenable, because HAL as an organisation manufactured everything from spacecraft components and supersonic fighters to propeller trainers. this is not because HAL is the best, but because nobody else has been permitted to do this. There is no bigger tragedy for the nation than not allowing any competition. Ask any Services pilot and you will hear the truth – the finished aircraft lack quality, HAL lacks commitment and most of all an unwillingness to face the truth. I’ve rarely if at all heard anything good being said about the HAL. If this is indeed the case, why is it that the opinion of the real customer never taken, the pilot in the field?


The real question to ask is that if HAL is indeed so capable and the ALH is really a world-class helicopter why is it that there are no sales in the civil market and for Military Export? The issue seems to be that HAL has set its standards very low by any yardstick, and it reminds me of the saying that goes “ the real problem is not that I will set my standards too high and fail, but that I will set the standards too low and succeed”. Successive HAL products have been pushed down the throats of the reluctant Armed Forces, and they are in no position to refuse – unwilling customers that cannot say no, for various reasons. The correct thing to do for HAL would be to challenge the globally established players; prove that the helicopter and the Company is right up there along with the best. This in itself will ensure that the Services come willingly to the table to buy the ALH for their own use.


Following the 2007 crash of IAF’s helicopter display team’s Dhruv, a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report from 2010 highlighted the fractured relationship between HAL and the IAF. The report blamed HAL of compromising with professionalism to protect its business interests, which in turn could have serious implications on safety of the people flying and operating the machine. The report also highlighted the problem of “cyclic saturation” with the helicopters, which caused two of the crashes (including the one in 2007). This technical oversight had also reportedly cost HAL a contract with Chile for the sale of the helicopters.


I also perceived a lack of professionalism at HAL. To list out some:


During acceptances at HAL, we would find that individual components would have been switched from other helicopters. In other words, the log card would state that for eg, the fuel pump serial no 12345 was installed, but the actual item on the aircraft would be serial no 98765. Once we realised this, then it became de-rigueur to physically inspect each and every component to check that the component is correct. HAL were concerned about this, and would say, why are you so fussy? Why is this so important, you may ask. It’s important because each component has certain flying hours and a defect history that is recorded in the log card, and ensures that nothing which is defective or with more flying hours on it than recorded is installed. Would you ever think of doing something like this from any foreign vendor? One expects a certain level of integrity and honesty from any vendor, especially a PSU that is supposed to be trustworthy.


The Final assembly line of the helicopter used to be very bad. There was no proper hygiene maintained. For eg, all the metal filings from the drilled holes would fall to the aircraft floor, never to be cleared. There was no template being used for the drilling of holes, so each panel had to be hand-crafted because there was nothing standardised. I have personally seen people working on the open Main Gearbox / IDS with tools and pens sticking out of pockets. Anything could fall out of the pocket into the gearbox, causing dents and leakages. We have removed ballpoint pens and nuts / bolts under the floor board, in the area of the floatation gear bottles after hours of flying. A very dangerous incident was when we had sparking and melting of the alternator cables. Never heard of. The HAL solution was to replace the cables. All was well, and the team that had come with the cable, told our engineer, that the cable was too long, and they wanted to use tiewraps (or tie-wire) to secure it. Fortunately for us, the designer also came by that day to find out what was wrong. He was horrified to find that the persons installing the new cable did not have a wiring diagram, and had routed the cables incorrectly. This was the reason there was ‘extra’ cable. We were saved a repeat of this. There were so many places all over the aircraft where cable bundles were secured with a tiewrap due to which the cables got cut. This was because of the vibrations on the aircraft, and the cables likely not being routed correctly. It is likely that many of these are corrected, so I will not dwell too long on these points, but such lack of basic engineering hygiene and procedures invariably led to many failures. This is completely unacceptable from any standpoint in a manufacturing company that specialises in Aerospace components and aircraft.


One day we came back from a sortie during which we noticed the GPS position not showing. On return, we found that both the GPS antennae had flown off. When I called HAL, I was horrified when I was told that we were not the only ones – so why didn’t they tell us in time? This meant that they knew this was happening. It was a faulty design of the antenna mounting bracket and we found cracks on all of them on other helicopters.


While I can go on about individual incidents, the crucial point is the way that HAL handles any defect reported by the customer.


  1. There seems to be very little accountability. When the customer reports a problem especially grave problems, the manufacturer must find out the deeper reason for the defect or failure. In Mathematics, it is called ‘deriving from first principles’. The manufacturing process has to be vetted. There could be a flaw in the assembly line, or there could be a problem with the particular tooling used to put together the component. Or there could be just plain carelessness. Like in the case of the alternator wire. While punitive action may not be always necessary, some amount of disciplining is required. As customers, the Service pilots never get to know whether the root cause has been addressed – all that we used to receive was a defect summary that did not tell us what exactly has been done.
  2. The way HAL handles most defects is replacement, without really going into the root of the problem. The tail rotor issue on the ALH is one example, that I have written about. I was not satisfied with the resolution of the problem, and refused to fly the helicopter from the Carrier at the time.

The other point is about the way that the design bureau looks at designing a helicopter. A couple of examples are in order. The engine cowlings on any helicopter are designed to open upwards, sometimes they open downwards so that people can stand on the cowlings and work on the engines. Not for ALH. The initial design required two technicians to climb on a huge platform and open about a dozen and half fasteners, and then the entire cowling had to be taken down like an egg-shell and laid on the ground. It was only after many meetings with the Navy, that HAL agreed to cowlings with hinged clamshells that would open downwards providing a platform for the worker to stand on. The quality of these clamshells was so bad, that they would bend and break at times. This point will also possibly be refuted by HAL as having been addressed, but the issue is that this should not have happened in the first place at the time.


I actually casually asked some of the designers whether they had ever worked on, or closely studied any other existing type of helicopter, to see the crucial design issues and other small modifications or attention to detail they had done. “No” was the answer. They seemed genuinely surprised about my asking and proudly said all of them were PGs, with some either holding or pursuing Doctorates, (so why would anyone want them to look at other helicopters). My point was also important because it is only when you have physically worked on any helicopter in the field, will you understand the day to day problems with regard to accessibility, Human-Machine Interface (HMI) issues and the like. They will would also see how other manufacturers have addressed issues that they may have faced. Many of these are simple solutions, may not be patented and can easily be adopted. One simple example is of the hand holds provided to climb on the engine deck. The HAL has provided handles made like similar to commercial cupboard door handles, sticking out into the airflow. Other manufacturers have provided spring-loaded flaps, so that the flap goes in when you put your hand or foot, and the flap provides a smooth finish to reduce drag in flight. Even these door type handles were so badly made, that one of them broke when a sailor was climbing on top, and broke his hand. We are fortunate he was alive. What happens if he falls overboard? I’m sure HAL would have then provided a heavier hand hold, and come up with some theory that the person should be more careful when climbing up or something like that, rather than addressing the core issue. Other manufacturers have provided spring-loaded flaps, so that the flap goes in when you put your hand or foot, and the flap provides a smooth finish to reduce drag in flight. It must be understood that all most of the other manufacturers worldwide have adequate staff on the design and production that who have a lot of experience in the field, and therefore know and understand the problems faced by the man in the heat of the battle when tasked to service and to fly the helicopter.


Another point is that there is no independent thought or foresight. A simple example – I also asked one of those on the LUH design team in the Design Bureau, whether they had considered commonality of parts between the ALH and the LUH. Again, they were surprised, and asked me why is this relevant? Now, if I need to answer that question here in this article, then evidently, the reader has no authority to comment on anything written here.


Coming back to the issue of customer base, the LUH could have been developed and matured in the civil market, and then offered to the Services, if HAL were so confident that the product was good. It must be realised that the civil world has no time to waste in down time of aircraft. Time is money, and they cannot afford the luxury of down time like the Services have to. Penalties are extremely harsh, and could even be up to a lakh of rupees per half hour of delay in positioning of the helicopter. ONGC and all Oil Companies impose such penalties on the helicopter companies. I myself was working on a contract where the only down time permitted for the single helicopter was 48 hours in a month, non-cumulative. Can anyone be confident of providing such a commitment were he to operate the ALH?


All pilots will have personal instances of an lackadaisical indifferent attitude or a deliberate wrong being done at the factory, just to get the aircraft off their backs. Our unit once took three months to accept a helicopter from HAL. This delay was because of recurrent problems with vibrations, rain water leakage, components not matching, the list is endless- but we didn’t budge. Can you think of any other manufacturer that will take so long to deliver a helicopter that has only just come out of servicing?


Before we go too deep into the how and whether HAL should be considered to provide the Navy with the 111 helicopters needed to replace the Chetak, we should first consider the current state of our Military-Industrial-Complex. A large part of the income from exports of any major industrialised nations comes from weapons / systems sales. India has practically none that really matter.


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Incidentally, ALH helicopters were sent to Nepal, Israel and Equador. The HAL crew really put in a lot of efforts for preparing the first of the civil helicopters to be sent abroad to Israel, in 2005 or 2006. A lot of efforts meant they did a very good paint job. I’m not sure if the rainwater leakage was fixed or not, but the difference in the quality of paint job between that helicopter and the one they had prepared for the Navy was enormous. Just like the “Export Quality” goods that used to be advertised in India. The HAL had a marketing contract with an Israeli firm, which nobody is talking about. If the ALH was indeed manna from heaven, then why did this marketing contract not produce the desired results? Israel promptly returned the civil registration helicopter and this is never mentioned anywhere by HAL. I’m not sure if Nepal is still flying their ALH. Ecuador has grounded all their remaining helicopters after some of them crashed, one quite spectacularly during a parade and cancelled the contract. HAL claims this is pilot error, and the customer thinks otherwise. In any case there was a trust deficit and Ecuador cancelled the contract, mainly, because they were at liberty to do so, unlike the Indian Armed Forces. HAL had exported one ALH on contract to Israel which they returned to HAL because they didn’t find it good enough. This and the aircraft sold to Equador most of which crashed is not even a drop in the ocean of defence sales. The ALH with Nepal and Maldives were gifted by the Government of India, not purchased by them out of choice.


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The Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) in many ways tries to address this shortcoming of the Military-Industrial-Complex. It is clearly stated in the preamble that “A need has also been felt for identifying strategic partners for promoting defence production in the private sector.” To start with, this one definitive push is in the right direction. A private sector player is interested primarily in the bottom-lines. This statement should not be quoted out of context. This is because even the PSUs are required to adhere to budgets, time lines, and finally, generate profits. The approach to this is different for both of these. Private industry will not compromise on quality of intake, or have to go through detailed procedures and governmental approvals to achieve the desired results. To quote some examples from the non-aviation commercial space, an excellent example is what happened to Maruti, after collaboration with Suzuki, and what was the status of Maruti Motors before that. Prior to this, India was ‘atmanirbhar’ for cars like the Ambassador Mark 4, the Premier Padmini and the Standard Herald. The fact that these were copies is a different matter. The common man had to be happy with the paddle shift gears in cars. The electricals were so bad that batteries had to be disconnected when going out of station. Cars needed petrol to be poured over the carburettor on a winter morning to start. I myself have driven a Premier Padmini and the change from this to a Wagon R was like moving on to a completely different level. Remember how all of us had to tilt our Bajaj Chetak scooters before starting? Do we do this with any of our modern bikes, whether an indigenous bike like the Pulsar or a foreign one like a Honda Activa?


Why I bring these examples to an aviation discussion is that the basic principles are the same – India had a practically non-existent industrial capability and never seen or used modern manufacturing techniques, better standards of equipment and the highest safety standards. Do any one of you think for a moment, that if the Government of that time had not brought in Suzuki, we would have been driving anything other than the Ambassador or Padmini? There is a dynamic difference in the machining, finishing, quality of workmanship and performance of the modern generation cars. Perhaps India would have had a much larger share of global manufacturing of cars, had the Government gone all the way, and allowed more numbers of car manufacturers to set up base here. However if other manufacturers had been allowed a free run like Maruti was, then Maruti may not have had the lion’s share of the market today. A similar mindset we’re seeing now about the HAL’s entry into the NUH market, existed in 1982 when Suzuki was brought in. In the case of the NUH debate, seems to be a feeling that if another manufacturer comes into India and proves its mettle, then the unchallenged position of HAL will be in danger. If we do not grab this opportunity of tying up with a foreign manufacturer, to set up shop in India, with a Private entity, then we will definitely miss the bus to building a strong Military-Industrial-Complex.


I’m a commercial helicopter pilot now, and wish to touch upon the issue of speed. Why is speed so crucial you may ask? Well, to cover a distance of 100 NM (Nautical Miles) a helicopter flying at 150 kts will take 40 minutes, and the ALH zipping along at 110 kts will take about 15 minutes extra. So what’s the big deal? Imagine YOU are the person drowning in the water, fighting to stay afloat, and have to wait for 15 minutes more. Or, you need to reach the point where the enemy submarine is so that you can speedily drop the torpedo before the submarine disappears. Additionally, since the fuel consumption figures of the S76 and ALH are comparable, the same amount of fuel will just take us that of a much lesser distance in an ALH.


The fact that the Naval version of the ALH is about 400 kg heavier than the IAF/Army version is another point to be kept in mind. This difference is as good as 5 passengers and is a crucial point. Weight increase has also been caused by the imported Vibration damping equipment strapped on at a later stage, which should not have been needed to start with, but that is a different line of discussion altogether.


If HAL was truly serious about providing a naval helicopter, the moment design bureau realised that 3.5m width wasn’t possible, a possible decision could have been taken at the time that the basic airframe could be the same, but the rotor head and blades for the Navy would be optimised for sea level operations and shipborne use. The current ALH is more optimised for high altitude use and survive battle damage, and hence separating the two designs could have yielded the required results. The Sea King is excellent for sea level use, but cannot cross the Banihal pass. Similarly, the ALH performs admirably at high altitudes, but the same performance could be a drag at sea level (pun intended). This option is just one of the possible scenarios I’m suggesting, in hindsight of course. If this was not considered possible, HAL should have at the onset accepted that that they will not design a helicopter for the more exacting Naval requirements. HAL claiming (as per information on a different website) that the cost of an imported helicopter would cost 10-15 crores more without actually knowing the figures is incorrect. We don’t even know the exact cost of an ALH.


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Coming back to the ALH, the moot question is – how much of the ALH is actually Indian? The engines are ‘manufactured’ at the HAL Engine Division, a euphemism for assembled. The Avionics are Israeli. Crew seats are imported, as are passenger seats for VIP. The material used to make the airframe and blade comes from various sources abroad. There is enough literature about the weapons that are going to be imported. Floation gear is imported. The Rotor brake was made in India with quality control by HAL. These brakes used to suddenly get jammed while flying, and so HAL said to us, fly without the brakes. Sadly with this aircraft, the Sum is less than the Total of the parts.


Coming to the oft-repeated term of indigenisation. When we speak of an Indigenous product, what exactly is indigenous? Something produced by a PSU (with parts from all over the globe) or something that is produced in India, even if it is by a foreign manufacturer with imported and locally produced parts. By different yardsticks, a Hyundai car made in India will be indigenous or will be imported. It is the same for home use items like Surf Excel or Colgate. Should we stop using any of these products? There are enough clarifications in the news from the Government that an item manufactured by a multi-national company in India will still be considered Indian / indigenous. So we have to understand that if a foreign vendor with years of experience comes into India to set up shop to manufacture a helicopter, he is bound to bring with him the expertise, the precision manufacturing practices, industrial safety and everything that has made that company successful. You are automatically creating a value chain, supply chain that will increase the standards of manufacturing and design in India. This will also spawn its own network of MSMEs and design experts. This will further spur indigenous R & D and design as well as spinoff manufacturing. This is just like the previously described automobile revolution.


Today there are Indian companies producing world class components for foreign manufacturers. I was told at the Sikorsky factory that the entire cabin structure of the S92 is manufactured in India and sent across. This is the norm everywhere. An American helicopter can have French engines, or Canadian engines, European manufacturers will use engines from Pratt and Whitney, components from all over the globe, so in that sense, any helicopter is a fusion of material from around the globe. What then is different if HAL does the same thing? Sadly with the ALH, the sum is less than the total of the parts.


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What can HAL however, bring to the table? If we allow a foreign vendor to bring in a helicopter that is suited for the Naval requirements, then ultimately, the Nation will benefit. If we were to insist on HAL’s (unsuitable) helicopter being inducted into the Navy to replace the Chetak, then we are doing a great disservice to the Service and to the Nation. I do not understand why there are so many demands that only a PSU should make helicopters and that the design effort of HAL should not be allowed to go waste. If as I’ve said earlier, the product is really so good, there will automatically be a queue to purchase the helicopter. HAL has its order books full not with willing customers, but with those that had no choice. The navy today has a choice and there seems to be a determined move to scuttle this choice. If the ALH were to be imposed onto the navy as the NUH, HAL may have won the NUH battle, but we India will surely lose the war. We in addition would have lost an opportunity to break free of the clutches of the Soviet era mentality that believed anything made or done by the government is good, and anything done by private enterprise is evil. We would have forever killed any opportunity of nurturing real talent, as well as allowing knowledge and skills to grow and flourish, all for short term gains of a PSU that really, has nothing to gain or lose from the contract, other than a sense of prestige and balancing of the account books.


When we look back many years later, we will then know exactly on whose door to pin our failure as a nation to seize the moment.


The author is a 55 year old helicopter pilot, Qualified Flight Instructor and has about 5800 hours of flying. He was the Flight Commander of the first Naval ALH flight and has adequate experience in taking the ALH through all the paces required for Naval requirements. After retiring from the Navy in 2008, he has flown commercial offshore and ashore flights. His views are personal.

The Truth Hurts, Says Indian Navy’s 1st Dhruv Flight Commander

Wonderful writeup by the commander. Settles most of the questions.
 
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