The Indian army has sharply reduced the number of multirole helicopters it intends to acquire from the international market, dealing a blow to potential suppliers Bell Helicopter, Eurocopter and Kamov.
The decision to cut a planned purchase of 198 aircraft to just 35 has been primarily attributed to the development by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) of a new light combat helicopter (LCH), but is also viewed as a response to reduced tensions in India's ongoing border dispute with neighbouring Pakistan.
India last year invited bids for the delivery of 198 combat helicopters for use in the Siachen glacier and Kargil battlefield areas of its northern state of Jammu and Kashmir under a programme worth roughly $440 million. However, the requirement will now be largely met by the LCH, which is being developed for multirole missions, including operations at high altitude.
Intended to replace the army's current HAL Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, the 5,500kg (12,100lb) -class LCH is suitable for all-weather operations and will be equipped with anti-tank missiles, unguided rockets, a 20mm cannon and air-to-air missiles for use against unmanned air vehicles and other slow moving aircraft.
The army requires that it should also be equipped with an airborne radar suitable for use in maritime and overland surveillance, plus other reconnaissance systems.
Defence ministry sources say Eurocopter remains the front runner to meet India's remaining 35-aircraft requirement with its AS550C3 Fennec, with the reduced project to have a price tag of around $80 million.
SHYAM RAVINDRAN / NEW DELHI
Source: Flight International