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AERO INDIA: MoD gives go-ahead to light utility helicopter project

India's defence ministry has cleared Hindustan Aeronautics' proposal to manufacture 187 light utility helicopters, paving the way for the company to begin a design phase and possibly sound out potential foreign partners.

"We will now start working on the programme and we expect to begin deliveries in five to six years," says Ashok Baweja, HAL chairman.

The tender is part of a combined requirement by both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army. New Delhi has issued a global request for proposals for 197 light utility helicopters, with Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and Russia's Rosoboronexport expected to respond. The defence ministry hopes to make a selection by early 2010 and induct the first helicopter in 2011.

There has been speculation that HAL could work with a foreign vendor to develop the aircraft from scratch, although Baweja says that it is too early too say if this would be the case.

Eurocopter, which allowed HAL to licence-produce several hundred Indian versions of the Alouette and Lama, is the likely company if a partner is sought. A possible model for the partnership is one that Eurocopter has with South Korea's Korea Aerospace Industries. The company is a partner in the Korea Helicopter Programme, which aims to develop an 8t utility helicopter for the country's army. Eurocopter would also help KAI to market the design outside South Korea.

India requires a smaller single-engine helicopter in the 2.5-3t category, with a range of up to 500km (270nm) and a 500kg (1,100lb) payload. HAL, which will also be responsible for the maintenance of the Western-manufactured helicopters, is likely to create a new division to oversee the entire LUH programme. This will be separate from its existing Dhruv advanced light helicopter and light combat helicopter programmes.

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