Facing Challenge At Sea, Navy Embarks On Long Road To Upgrade Chopper Fleet.
The navy is preparing a fresh case for buying new multi-role helicopters (MRH) after failed attempts to fill a key area of deficiency in its capabilities, a senior navy officer said.The MRH is expected to be the future mainstay of the navy’s anti-submarine, anti-ship warfare and airborne early-warning capabilities that have seen a worrying and persistent deterioration over the last decade.
The new push for 24 MRH worth over Rs 10,000 crore is aimed at replacing the Sea King 42/42A helicopters that were retired almost around two decades ago.
“The replacement is overdue. It was around 15 years ago that the navy moved a case to get new MRH. It’s a very crucial operational requirement,” said vice admiral (retd) Shekhar Sinha, a naval aviator and former Western Naval Command chief.
The Sea King 42/42A models came with aircraft carrier INS Viraat. Bought from the UK, the Viraat was commissioned as the navy’s second carrier in 1987 and retired last year.
The navy came very close to hammering out a deal for 16 Sikorsky S-70B Seahawks a year ago, but the negotiations fell through, forcing the project to return to the drawing board. The takeover of Sikorsky Aircraft by Lockheed Martin affected price negotiations as the defence ministry’s commercial negotiation committee had to deal with a new management, navy sources said.
Shortage of MRH has forced the navy to ration its helicopter resources. “The navy has to beg, borrow and steal to keep the show going,” Sinha said.
It is unclear at this stage what course the navy will take to purchase the new helicopters — whether it will go in for a government-to-government (G2G) deal or float a global tender.
Sources said the US administration has offered the S-70B Seahawk to India under a G2G deal, also known as the foreign military sales programme.
A G2G deal is a contract between two governments that does away with the need to float a tender. Such transactions may be complicated in their conception and execution but are more transparent to financial scrutiny.
Apart from MRH, the navy needs to invest thousands of crores to buy naval utility helicopters (NUH) and naval multi-role helicopters (NMRH).
The navy requires 111 NUH to replace its outdated fleet of French-designed Chetak choppers. A fresh effort to buy these ship-borne utility helicopters got underway in October, with the defence ministry according its “acceptance of necessity” (AoN) to a Rs 21,738-crore programme to replace the Chetaks.
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