On August 25, India’s Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Indian Minister of Defense Nirmala Sitharaman, approved the procurement of 111 armed light naval utility helicopters (NUH) and 24 naval multirole helicopters (NMRH) for the Indian Navy under the Indian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) new strategic partnership policy.
The procurement of the helicopters for the Indian Navy will be the first major defense acquisition project under new MoD’s strategic partnership (SP) guidelines published in June 2017 for a new strategic partnership policy under the framework of the Defense Procurement Procedure 2016. The principal aim behind the new guidelines is to facilitate the manufacturing of military hardware locally as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative.
The “SP model envisages indigenous manufacturing of major defense platforms by an Indian strategic partner, who will collaborate with foreign OEM [original equipment manufacturer], acquire niche technologies and set up production facilities in the country,” the MoD said in an August 25 statement.
The DAC on October 31 accorded the Acceptance of Necessity (AON) for 111 NUHs, which was preceded by a Request for Information (RFI) that also included 123 NMRHs with anti-submarine warfare capabilities. A detailed Request for Proposals (RFP) for the 111 NUHs and 24 NMRHs has so far not been issued. According to previous reporting, 95 NUHs are to be locally assembled in India, with the remaining helicopters to be procured in fly-away condition from an OEM.
“To enhance the capability of [the] navy at sea, approval has also been granted for procurement of anti-submarine capable, 24 in number multi role helicopters, which are an integral part of the frontline warships like the aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes. Availability of [N]MRH with the Navy would plug the existing capability gap,” the MoD said on August 25.
No foreign OEM has so far been officially selected for either helicopter, although according to Indian media reports, Lockheed Martin-Sikorky’s MH-60R Seahawk Romeo maritime helicopter is the Indian Navy’s preferred option. Other “[c]andidates could include the NHIndustries NH 90 twin-engine helicopter, the naval Super Puma, the Mitsubishi H-60 and the Agusta Westland AW101 (if the company receives permission from the Indian government to bid),” I explained in August 2017.
NUH candidates include the Airbus AS565 Panther light naval helicopter and a new variant of the AgustaWestland AW109 LUH.
The Indian Navy suffers from an acute shortage of naval helicopters for its burgeoning surface fleet. The service “currently operates 11 Kamov-28 and 17 Sea King ASW helicopters; however, only four of the former and around five of the latter are flyable,” I noted last year. Overall, the service has a need for over 230 new helicopters estimated to cost over $10 billion. (India also cleared the purchase of 16 U.S.-made Sikorsky S-70B-x helicopters in 2014, but presumably has abandoned plans to procure the rotorcraft.)
Contracts with an OEM for the procurement of either helicopters are not expected to be signed for a number of years.