India seeks 22 attack helicopters

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India has begun a competition to procure 22 attack helicopters for its air force, in the latest in a series of tenders aimed at modernising the service by the middle of the next decade.

A request for proposals has been issued to seven companies, which now have three months to respond to the more than $500 million requirement. The air force hopes to sign a contract within two years and complete deliveries within a further three-year period.

"The Indian air force has been asking for new attack helicopters for some time and this contract will fulfil that," says the defence ministry. "The modernisation is a priority and we are doing all we can to expedite the process."

The tender is to replace New Delhi's ageing Mil Mi-35 fleets. Requirements include a twin-engined helicopter that is highly manoeuvrable, has anti-armour capabilities, and is able to deploy turret guns, rockets, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.

An ability to operate in all weather and terrain is also necessary, along with the use of an electronic warfare self-protection suite.

EADS and India's Defence Avionics Research Establishment will pursue the latter programme requirement, having jointly developed and tested a new missile warning system based on the European company's AAR-69 MILDS design.

Boeing has pushed its AH-64D Apache Longbow in India for some time, and says the design's "capabilities align with the Indian government's requirements." Eurocopter says it will put forward its Tiger, while observers also expect the AgustaWestland AW129, Bell AH-1Z SuperCobra, Kamov Ka-50 and Mil Mi-28 to be the other Western contenders. India's Hindustan Aeronautics could offer its Light Combat Helicopter, which is still under development, but scheduled to have its first flight by mid-year.

Separately, New Delhi is still finalising the details of a $1.5 billion tender for 384 light utility helicopters to replace the HAL Cheetah and Chetak, with an RFP to be issued, potentially in late June.

The army will get 259 helicopters and the air force 125, with 197 to be bought in fly-away condition and the rest licence-produced by AgustaWestland, Bell, Eurocopter, HAL and Kamov are the likely recipients.

India in late April received RFP responses from six bidders for its air force's $12 billion multirole combat aircraft requirement for 126 new fighters, and earlier this year ordered six Lockheed C-130J transports.

New Delhi is also close to confirming Boeing's P-8I Poseidon for a maritime patrol aircraft requirement and to finalising a deal for 80 new Mi-17-IV multirole helicopters.

It has also ordered additional HAL-produced Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters, and will induct two squadrons of indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft from 2010.

A first group of Indian navy air crews will meanwhile start training in Russia later this month, before flying the service's first of 16 new RSK MiG-29K/KUB fighters from August.