AERO INDIA: Helicopter manufacturers eye lucrative naval contracts

Singapore
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Helicopter manufacturers AgustaWestland, Eurocopter, Russian Helicopters and Sikorsky had a high profile at Aero India, as they jostle for position around four major naval contests.

India's planned naval build-up requires maritime rotorcraft in substantial numbers. The navy has three major requirements for new helicopters, while the coastguard has one.

The navy's long-running Multi-Role Helicopter (MRH) requirement for 16-18 aircraft is still up for grabs, following the release in 2009 of a request for proposals (RFP) by New Delhi. The main rivals for the deal are the NH Industries NH90 and Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk.

A further RFP is anticipated in the second half of 2013 for the service's 120-aircraft Naval Multi-Role Helicopter (NMRH) competition.

Sources stress that New Delhi has yet to specify its requirement for the NMRH contest, but they believe it will call for an aircraft capable of performing both anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare roles, similar to the MRH competition. However, unlike the smaller contract, some of the aircraft obtained under NMRH would also be used for troop transport. Contenders include navalised versions of the Eurocopter EC725 and the Sikorsky H-92 Superhawk.

Despite the long delay to the MRH decision, sources are confident that it will not be rolled into NMRH.

"These are two separate RFPs," says one source. "Besides, the MRH is badly needed to replace the navy's [Hindustan Aeronautics] Cheetahs. NMRH will coincide with a broader build up of the Indian navy's surface fleet in the coming decades."

Other contests include the navy's 56-aircraft Naval Utility Helicopter requirement. The RFP for this was released in August 2012, with bids due in May 2013. Eyeing this contest, Eurocopter displayed a naval variant of its AS365 Panther outside its pavilion at the show.

The final competition is for a 14-unit order by the coastguard, which issued an RFP in November 2012 for its Twin-Engined Heavy Helicopter (TEHH) requirement. Bids are due in March 2013, with the customer calling for a helicopter optimised for both search and rescue and combat tasks. The TEHH will be based on land, but must be capable of operating from coastguard vessels.