Navy scouts for heavy duty Helicopters

After the Army and IAF, it’s now the turn of the Navy to launch a hunt for its own specialised heavy-duty helicopters. The defence ministry has floated a global tender for an initial 16 advanced naval multi-role (MR) helicopters, which are likely to be followed by another 44. Each MR helicopter will cost as much as Rs 110 crore, virtually on par with a spanking new fighter jet, because of the sophisticated avionics, radars and armaments on board the 10-tonne platform which will be able to carry 15 combat-ready soldiers. ‘‘The RFP (request for proposal), issued to companies like Agusta Westland, Sikorsky, EADS and the like, is for an initial lot of 16 MR helicopters,’’ said an official. ‘‘The eventual requirement, however, is for around 60 such choppers. These MR helicopters will also have potent anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, armed as they will be with cruise missiles and lightweight torpedoes. Capable of mid-air refuelling, they will operate from warships as well as the shore,’’ he added. The Navy is going in for five more Kamov-31 airborne early-warning (AEW) helicopters, worth a whopping Rs 275 crore each, to add to the nine such helicopters already inducted in 2003-2004. Moreover, midlife upgrades of Navy’s Ka-28 and Sea King helicopter fleets, for Rs 600 crore and Rs 850 crore, respectively, is also on the cards. Incidentally, the Navy currently has around 40 MR and 25 ASW/AEW helicopters. All this activity on the naval helicopter front comes close after the defence ministry asked six foreign aviation majors to submit bids to supply 197 ‘‘light utility and observation’’ helicopters for Army and IAF, in a Rs 3,000 crore project, to service high-altitude areas like Siachen, among other roles. Another 187 ‘‘light’’ helicopters will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) by 2016-2017 to fulfil the overall requirement for 384 such helicopters for Army (259) and IAF (125) to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleets.The armed forces are in the market for around 700 helicopters, with half of them to be acquired from foreign firms, over the next 10 years at a cost of Rs 17,000 crore. IAF has launched the hunt for 22 lethal attack copters to add to its feet of Mi-35 gunships. But while these deals will take some time to fructify, two big helicopter deals are on the verge of being inked.These are the $1 billion deal for 80 Russian Mi-17 choppers and the deal for 12 VVIP copters, which will come with suites, much like the three Business Boeing Jets acquired for Rs 937 crore to ferry around the President and the PM.

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