India’s Light Helicopter Contract Hits Turbulence, Rises

In 2003, India issued an RFP for 197 light helicopters to replace its Army’s aging fleet of Chetaks (Aerospatiale SA316 Alouette III) and Cheetahs (SE316B Alouette II). These helicopters are old designs, but they have consistently proven themselves in high altitude operations, and remain useful as long as their airframe’s remain safe. The problem is, at their age that isn’t a very long time. India’s Army Aviation Corps needs replacements, and wants new helicopters with better performance and support characteristics. These new machines will perform a variety of armed light utility tasks, including ferrying loads of up to 75 kg to troops based at heights of 23,000 feet around Kashmir, the Siachen Glacier, et. al. Operation at these altitudes has traditionally been very challenging for helicopters, owing to reduced rotor lift in the thinning air.
Indian officials were discussing a deal worth between $500-$600 million to buy 60 helicopters outright, with the remaining 137 being built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Eurocopter’s AS550 C3 Fennec and Bell Textron’s 407 competed in the second and final round of summer trials, and as 2007 ticked toward a close, it looked like we had a winner. As often happens in India, however, the process ended up completely derailed. Now, there’s a new RFP – but inside lobbying from HAL has backed India off of its initial goal of 312 foreign helicopters.
Now reports of Bell Helicopter’s withdrawal look set to make this a smaller competition. Meanwhile HAL, who faces the new situation of penalties for late delivery, has decided to look for a foreign partner to help with its separate portion of India’s LUH buy…

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