Russian Helicopters has been asked by the Indian MoD to respond to a request for information (RFI) to procure light utility helicopters for the Indian Army and Navy along with Airbus and Bell.
This is contrary to what is being reported primarily in the Russian media that the Russian side is close to a go ahead to set up a manufacturing base in India along with state owned HAL to sell in the Indian and export markets.
The respondents are to team up with Indian companies to execute the program as a ‘make in India’ project to manufacture nearly 400 choppers for the Indian Army and Air Force. Industry sources told Defenseworld.net that the last date for the RFI response is December 23 but “almost everyone will ask for an extension as it is impossible to prepare a response in such a short time”.
Much of the optimism from the Russian side stems from the statement of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had said at the conclusion of his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. “Russia has offered to fully manufacture in India one of its most advanced helicopters. It includes the possibility of exports from India. It can be used for both military and civilian purposes. We will follow up on this quickly”.
The Prime Minister’s statement opens the field for many possibilities. It is unrealistic to assume that the Indian MoD would not give an opportunity to other contenders to make their presentations and hand the project to the Russians on a platter.
In a tender for light utility helicopters which had been scrapped earlier this year, the Russian Kamov Ka-226T and Airbus Helicopters’ AS550C3 Fennec had been the two finalists after the disqualification of AgustaWestland. Bell has thrown its hat into the ring with its 407 chopper now making it a three-way race.
The industry source said that the most difficult part of the project would be to find an Indian partner to make the helicopter in India as no Indian company, barring HAL had the expertise and technology in helicopter manufacture. “While many Indian companies are interested, hardly any would want to make the huge investment necessary to set up a helicopter plant without first getting the project in hand”, said the source.
While Sikorsky has teamed up with the Tata Group and has been manufacturing aircraft fuselages in Hyderabad, Airbus Helicopters is yet to find a partner for its defence helicopter business in India though it has a joint venture with engineering company L & T focused on the defence electronics.
Russian helicopters does not have an Indian partner despite being one of the biggest suppliers of choppers to the Indian armed forces. It is currently executing a project to supply Mi-17 helicopters in tranches of 80 and 59.