Indian Military’s Grand Helicopter Plans

By Shashank Sinha


New Delhi, 07 November 2006  

Bell ARH

Fennec AS550C3

The Indian military is on the verge of sealing multi-million dollar deals for procurement of more than 300 helicopters of various types from overseas markets in the next ten years. These ambitious acquisitions will be in addition to local production of HAL Dhruv choppers.

The biggest deal will involve acquisition of around 190 armed aero scout helicopters for which Bell Textron's 407 ARH (armed reconnaissance helicopter) and Eurocopter’s AS 550C3 Fennec helicopters are in the race. Both are undergoing trials likely to be completed by next year. Competition is expected to be stiff as the two are very competent and proven machines and serve a number of users world-wide.

The Bell Textron chopper holds a position of strength as it is already in production for the US army as its main ARH type, replacing the long serving OH-58 Kiowa Warriors. The wining model will be equipped with a turret mounted optronics sensors, secure communications suite, a combined pulse Doppler GPS navigation suite, automatic direction finder, distance measuring equipment, marker beacon transponder, three axis auto hover system, plus twin 2.75 rocket pods and 20 mm gun ponds. This acquisition process marks a new thinking in the Army on a much expanded role for army aviation and its willingness to break free to a certain degree from its dependence on IAF helicopter squadrons for meeting combat and logistical needs. The Army plans to buy 60 helicopters outright with the remainder to be built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The Indian Air Force is also on the lookout for a medium lift helicopter to replace its ageing force of Mi-8 choppers. The MI-8 forms the backbone of its helicopter units (HU) and currently constitutes the No. 105, 107, 109, 110, 112 and 118 HU. It is also a regular workhorse of the IAF and suffers high utilization due to routine disaster management and search & rescue deployments. The IAF is to acquire 80 Mi-17-IV helicopters from Russia in a deal worth $660 million. Orders could be placed by the end of this year and the programme calls for the acquisition process to be completed by 2008. If the deal comes through it would be a continuation of the acquisitions begun in 2000 when India had acquired 40 Mi-17 helicopters worth $170 million.

Meanwhile the HAL Dhruv is also emerging from the shadows of recent problems when the whole fleet was grounded following a crash in November last year. HAL plans to progressively upgrade them starting with a new power pack in the form of the Indo-French Shakti engine with 15 percent more power to replace the existing TM-333 by next year. The air force plans to introduce Dhruv to regular Siachen service through the 117 HU which has converted to Dhruv from Mi-8. The Army also plans to induct armed versions of Dhruv, which are expected to sport hardened rotor components and Israeli optronics and targeting equipment for all-weather day/night operations. The defence Ministry is understood to have given nods for 39 such choppers for the Army with orders expected to be placed on HAL in the near future


  1. RIA Novosti-

  2. MOD Press release via PIB-


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