Indian-based manufacturer wants to develop domestic replacement for navy's ageing anti-submarine Sea King fleet

Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) is considering developing a 10-12t anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter to replace India's fleet of ageing Westland Sea Kings.

The proposed indigenous solution gives India another alternative in addition to the AgustaWestland EH101, Eurocopter AS532C Cougar, Kamov Ka-31 with a BAE Systems-supplied mission system and Sikorsky S-70 that are already being evaluated for the 12-20 aircraft requirement.

An indigenous helicopter would take longer to place into service than an imported aircraft, but the Indian navy has not yet determined when it will retire its Sea Kings, which have been plagued by support problems, and it is also assessing a possible upgrade to extend the life of the fleet.

HAL believes it is ready to step up to a large helicopter following development of the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH) and can compete against foreign companies for the contact.

"The ALH is not the beginning or end of aviation activities in HAL. We will have to graduate to other classes. The next logical step is the 10-12t machine - there is a market for this type of helicopter," says a HAL source. "We have a fair amount of confidence with the ALH, so we know we can do it on our own."

The new naval ASW helicopter may also be considered by the air force as a medium-size transport to replace its fleet of Mil Mi-8/17s. The Kazan Mi-172 with BAE cockpit and the Cougar are also vying for this 80-aircraft requirement, but a request for information has not even been issued, suggesting any acquisition is still several years away.

India has a more urgent requirement for 12 VIP helicopters, again pitting the EH101, Mi-172 and Super Puma. HAL is also interested in this programme.

HAL has delivered 29 Dhruvs to the Indian and Nepalese armed forces and another six are now going through acceptance testing. So far only transport variants are in service, but HAL is developing ASW and anti-surface warfare variants for the navy. An armed variant for the army is also being developed, featuring chin-mounted guns and rocket pods.

From 2006, HAL plans to incorporate an upgraded engine on the Dhruv by co-developing with Turbomecca the Ardiden, a successor to the TM333-2M2.

HAL also has developed re-engined prototypes of the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, using the TM333-2M2. The TM333-2B2 powered Cheetah, dubbed the Cheetal, provides better fuel economy, longer range and more payload capacity at high altitude. The prototype has already been test flown for 150h and the air force is now evaluating the aircraft, but has not decided whether to re-engine its Cheetah fleet.

Source: Flight International