Hindustan Aeronautics has decided against seeking an international partner for its light observation helicopter programme, and will undertake the development by itself.

"We have gained a lot of experience and learnt a lot over the years manufacturing the Cheetah and Chetak, and then developing the Dhruv [advanced light helicopter]," says a senior official at the state-owned firm. "There will be some degree of commonality in terms of systems with Dhruv and the LCH [light combat helicopter], but this will otherwise be a new helicopter."

In 2009, the defence ministry asked HAL to develop and manufacture 187 utility and observation helicopters for the Indian air force and army by 2017.

The company has begun preliminary design studies into a 3t helicopter powered by a single HAL/Turbomeca Shakti engine. The aircraft will have a range of up to 500km (270nm) and a 500kg (1,100lb) payload. The first example should fly by 2015.

Observers had expected HAL to develop the new helicopter with help from the winner of an international competition for 197 helicopters that will cover interim requirements. AgustaWestland, Eurocopter and Russia's Rosoboronexport agency responded to a 2009 request for proposals, but India missed a self-imposed deadline to begin trials by the middle of last year. These should start in mid-2010 and a decision is expected in 2011, say industry sources.

HAL, which will also maintain the Western-manufactured helicopters, has a created Helicopter Complex division that brings together its rotorcraft design, development and manufacturing activities under one umbrella. This includes the light observation helicopter, the Dhruv and the LCH that will imminently have its first flight.

Separately, the HAL sources confirm that India's navy has decided against buying additional Dhruvs and will look to foreign vendors for both its utility and anti-submarine warfare requirements.

The navy has Dhruvs performing utility missions, and had planned to buy dozens more to replace its Chetaks and potentially also meet an ASW requirement. However, the service has decided to go ahead with an international tender for both requirements and could issue a RFP this year, say HAL sources.

"The navy says that for their particular roles, the Dhruv is probably not suited. They are not considering it as a long-term solution at the moment and want to look elsewhere for their utility and ASW requirements," says one.

The service is likely to assess the NH Industries NH90 and Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk for its ASW missions, while Eurocopter's AS365 Dauphin is likely to be a leading contender for any utility requirement.

Source: Flight International