500 copters needed of 10-12 tonne class
In an emerging business opportunity for foreign helicopter makers, India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is now looking to produce a ‘medium weight’ multi-role copter in the 10-12 tonne class, by forging a partnership with a company with experience of making such copters.
HAL aims to position the copter as a replacement for the Russian Mi-17 copters in the Indian Air Force (IAF) stable which could start retiring in phases in 7-8 years from now. The marine variants of the copter could also be used to replace the Kamov- 28, Kamov- 31 and Seaking 42 in the Indian Navy stable. India has some 250 of the Mi17 series in the ‘IV’ and ‘V5’ variants besides some 35-40 naval copters.
Apart from the military use, the HAL will position the copter for the civil rotary lift market too. Collectively – military and civil — the Indian market is estimated to be off 500 copters of such type.
The HAL, a company owned by the Ministry of Defence, will be looking at a foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM) who can join as a ‘risk partner’ right at the beginning of the project.
A ‘risk partner’ gets to share the benefits and long-term business of making copters over the next three decades in India.
Sources told IDD that the HAL is looking to replicate the successful business model under which it developed the 5.5 tonne class advanced light helicopter (ALH) – the engine came from Safran of France under a HAL-Sarfan JV.
HAL seeks $1.4 billion for development
Called the Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH), the HAL has submitted a Preliminary Project Report (PPR) for Development of the copter to the MoD for sanction of funds. The HAL is seeking some Rs 10,000 ( approx $1.42 billion) for development of the copter, its design and initial tests. The Cabinet committee on security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to take on call on it soon.
The HAL has already produced some 300 copters of the light category – all less than 5.5 tonne class, making a medium weight copter would need separate skills and test facilities.
Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was apprised on the progress of new design and development program of indigenous IMRH. A full scale executive variant was showcased to the Minister in Bangalore, on February 27.
Induction of indigenous IMRH will result in saving of foreign exchange. Importing some 500 copters of such type could cost anything upto $ 5 billion, or more depending on what kind of gadgetry is sought.
“ The product has to be ready by the time the Mi17 start getting phased out, say by 2026”, say a senior functionary. HAL is keen to complete the development of IMRH during this time and it has involved the IAF, the Army and the Navy for design, allowing it to be flexible enough to meet the needs of the three armed forces services besides the Coast Guard.
HAL estimates the design and development, including military grade crash tests could take upto 4 years.
Engine and trust will decide partner
A series of engines have been identified which can be used on board which all can be engines can be used on board. “This could be from the General Electric from the US, The Klimov from Russia, Safran from France,” a official said.
Clearly HAL will decide the partner on the basis of the engine and also the work being done by the helicopter company in India. It could actually be anybody’s game. The HAL needs twin-engine machine that has a service ceiling of atleast 20,000.
The Naval and IAF variants will naturally vary to include multiples of reconnaissance, Elint, Electronic warfare suite and Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability.
India is already operating the Mi17 made by Russian helicopters and powered by the Klimov TV3-117VM high-altitude turboshaft engines. The MH 60 R, made by Lockheed Martin which India has recently contracted uses the General Electric T700 engine.
The GE engines, the GE 414, are contracted for the Tejas fighter jets.
The Airbus HM 225 is powered by two Turbomeca Makila 2A1 engines. Under an existing tie-up, HAL has for engines, one of the Turbemecia series is produced here for the ALH.
In other words India already has had the option of seeing these engines makers and helicopter companies up close. It is flying the Mi17 and the US made Lockheed is just entering the stable and one of the Safran Engines is already being made here. The Mi17 does not have a marine variant.
India also uses tow of Boeing copters but for different usage and class. The Chinook CH 47 is used for the heavy lift role while the Apache AH 64 E is used as an attack platform.