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HELICOPTER SEGMENT: A CASE FOR STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP

Helicopter is one of the priority segment selected for Strategic Partnership. India needs at least 2 integrators in this segment keeping in view the defence and civil Helicopter requirements.

Indian Armed forces are presently having the fleet of over 750+ helicopters. The Indian Air Force is having approximately 380 helicopters, 220 with Indian Army and around 150 with Indian Navy and Coast Guard. About 78 percent fleet is of light or medium lift helicopters including Cheetah, Chetak and M series helicopters and 57 percent fleet is more than 20 years old and is nearly scheduled for replacement. Figures below depict the existing inventory profile and age profile of the helicopter platforms.

 

Market Overview

The Indian Military helicopter market is growing at a rate of 6-7 percent every year while the civil helicopter market is growing at about 20 percent. The Indian Armed Forces are planning to induct over 1,000 helicopters of different type’s rotary wing aircraft including attack, utility, and multi role and lift platforms by the end of 2027. As of now, on the anvil are 500 helicopters for the IA, 350 helicopters for the IAF, 200 helicopters for the IN & ICG.

            If we include the requirement from civil sector, the figure will cross 2000 mark and the total figure for the Indian helicopter market zooms up to $30-40 Billion in the next 15 years. Hence, there is a business case for Indian public as well as for private sector in the helicopter manufacturing, as most of the helicopters are to be manufactured in India with foreign collaboration in tune with “Make in India” initiative of the Indian Govt. Under Buy and Make (India), 50 percent of the helicopters must be produced indigenously. The overseas companies would transfer technology (Refer Fig: Overview of Indian Helicopter Market) to India.

Indian Defence Helicopter Requirement

Indian and U.S. signed the contracts for the procurement of 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters in a deal estimated to be worth $3 billion. It will replace the ageing MI-35 and MI-26 fleets. Meanwhile, manufacturing of 200 Kamov KA 226T helicopters with HAL as the Indian partner is in offing.

The Navy is in the process of upgrading its fleet of 10 Ka-28 Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopters in a deal signed with Russia costing 310 million dollars.

            In the medium lift category, 151 Russian MI-17 V5 helicopters have already been acquired from Russia and a few more are in the pipeline to cater to the requirements of CAPF for Naxal operations. These helicopters are advanced and upgraded versions of the MI-17 family of helicopters and are produced by Russian Helicopters. The MI-17 V5 is equipped with glass cockpit, night capability and armament package and should boost the armed forces capability in special operations.

Major On-Going and Future Procurements

Indigenous ALH Dhruv

159 Dhruv ALHs (MkIII) worth $2.54 Billion (Rs 14000 crores) from the Indian Army and Indian Air Force. 32 additional Dhruvs for the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard from HAL for Rs 70 billion ($1.16 billion). IA is now taking deliveries of Dhruv Mk III and about 80 Dhruvs have been inducted into the IA. Out of 159 Dhruv's, HAL was committed to deliver 76 Weaponised Utility Helicopter - Rudra ALH Mk-IV for the Indian Army and the IAF (60 for IA and 16 for IAF) and has handed over the first batch of the Rudra helicopter to the Indian Army in February 2013.

Light Combat Helicopter (LCH)

The most significant development by the HAL is the light combat Helicopter (LCH), a state of art attack helicopter with capability to operate at high altitudes. Both the Air Force and Army are the potential customers and are looking at a total of almost 180 helicopters. The Government has already given the initial approval for acquisition of 10 and 5 LCHs for the Airforce and Army respectively. IAF is looking to order 65 LCH while Indian army will purchase 114 LCH armed with M621 20 mm cannon on Nexter THL-20 turret and anti tank missiles. The LCH has successfully cleared trials and is due for crucial weapons trials.

 

Reconnaissance & Surveillance Helicopters

There is a requirement of approximately 600 such platforms for the three services and Coast Guard. The light, reconnaissance & surveillance helicopters that the IA and IAF require, totals to 440. Request for Information issued for Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopters (RSH) under ”Buy& Make (Indian)” category for approximately 197 numbers for the Indian Army and IAF for the third time in the end of 2014 under a 'Make In India' scheme. MoD has received more than ten responses from the RFI with multiple bids per platform on five different helicopters - Airbus AS550 C3 Fennec, Kamov Ka-226T Sergei, Bell 407GT, AgustaWestland AW119 and HAL Light Utility Helicopter. Airbus is likely to form joint venture with Reliance/Mahindra. AgustaWestland has responded through two Indian firms for the militarised AW119,  not confirmed but it may be TATA Group with which earlier it formed joint venture company to manufacture its AW119 helicopters in India

Light Utility Helicopters

The Navy requires 127 light utility helicopters and Coast Guard wants 14. In a major development under an Indo-Russian Governmental agreement, India is to procure 200 Kamov-226T helicopters of which 60 would be built in Russia and the balance 140 to be manufactured in a Joint Venture (JV) between Kamov and HAL with the possibility of involvement of a private sector partner. In addition the under development  of LUH by HAL would cater for the balance and future requirements of the Army and Airforce which is expected to be another 200-300 such platforms. The LUH is expected to be ready for induction by the beginning of 2018. Both the Kamov-226T and LUH will be manufactured at HAL's new integrated facility at Tumakuru.

            The twin engine ALH is capable of high altitude operations and is fitted with powerful 'Shakti' engines being produced jointly by HAL and French Turbomeca. While the Army, Airforce and Coast Guard are presently operating 100 plus Dhruv's, the Navy has not found them suitable to operate from the frigate size ship decks, mainly because of the time intensiveness of blade folding. However, the Navy has inducted a limited number of ALH's (16) into its inventory which operate from its shore based installations. The Army and Airforce will continue to be the main customers for the HAL manufactured Dhruv's in the future. The Army alone is looking at another 60-70 Dhruv's joining its inventory in the next six to seven years.

Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH)

The Navy is looking to replace its current fleet of Chetak/ modified Chetak, with a twin engine, 4.5 Ton helicopter capable of operating from warship decks and carrying light armaments. The requirement is for 100 platforms worth $ 2 billion. An RFI for the Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) was issued in 2015. The following contenders have responded to the RFI:-

  • Tata Group with Airbus Helicopter
  • Reliance Defence and Aerospace with Airbus Helicopter
  • Axis Aerospace,
  • Bharat Forge with AgustaWestland
  • Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL)
  • Larsen & Toubro with Airbus Helicopter
  • Punj Lloyd with Airbus Helicopter
  • Mahindra with Airbus Helicopter
  • Reliance Ltd. with Airbus Helicopter

            Eleven Indian private sector companies, have responded with proposed joint ventures revolving around three foreign helicopter manufacturers. Airbus has offered AS565 MBe and has tie-up for the deal in association separately with the Tata Group, Punj Lloyd, L&T, Pipavav, Mahindra & Mahindra and Reliance.

            There has been no further progress since then with the RFP yet to be issued. However this project is likely to gather speed now in view of the approval of the Strategic Partnership Policy.

Indian Multirole Helicopter (IMRH)

The helicopter is expected to have a range of 500 km and a capacity of 24 seated troops. HAL has already done preliminary work on design of the new 10-12 ton class helicopter which will be based on enlarged Dhruv design. There will certainly be a requirement to collaborate with a foreign OEM as HAL does not have the requisite know-how and expertise in this class of helicopters. Airbus has offered H225M Caracal (previously EC725) for the NMRH programme of the Indian Navy under 'Buy & Make (Indian)' category. The requirement is about 123 units worth $4 Billion.

Capability Gap

The chart below clearly depicts that current requirement of the Military Helicopters by the Indian Armed forces for a period between 2013-2017 is 1000+. HAL has the production lines for Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), the armed ALH (Rudra) and Light Utility Helicopter (LUH). With the existing production capacity of HAL at about 30 per year, one can expect about 400 helicopters by 2027 from them.

The remaining gap between the demand and supply is about 600.  Even if the HAL supply is increased to 50 per year, then the numbers that can be achieved by 2027 is 500+ but still remain a gap of about 300 units between the demand and supply. The supply can be increased if the number of unit of production is increased further. This can be achieved by ToT and promoting 'Make in India' or by establishing regional unit of OEMs in India.

Strategic Partnership

The Segment is a fit case on priority for Strategic Partnership and there is a need for involvement of the private sector in the defence manufacturing. India needs at least 2 integrators in this segment keeping in view the civil Helicopter requirement, in addition to HAL. The basic requirements of the helicopter variants could be met by same basic configuration and additionally could be made with the help of sub-system suppliers.

            Foreign OEMs need to initiate the process to get approval for a joint venture with an Indian partner to manufacture helicopters in India. The MoD and Indian Partners are likely to be cautious as some of the demands by the MNC may be in deviation of the Defence Procurement Procedures. Normally, they will seek majority stake in the Indian JV and full control with 51% or higher equity stake mainly because of the imperatives of production management, quality assurance issues and for building a global supply chain. OEM needs to convince their suppliers to transfer technology to India and resolve the IPR issue.

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