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Naval Utility Helicopter

In a first of its kind, Ministry of Defence has issued Expression of Interest (s) for shortlisting of potential Indian Strategic Partners and foreign OEMs for Procurement of 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) for the Indian Navy on 12 February 2019. These helicopters will replace Chetak Helicopters and will be utilised for albeit SAR, CASEVAC, LIMO, passenger roles and torpedo drops. A total of 95 helicopters out of 111 will be manufactured in India by the selected Indian Strategic Partner. The case was approved by DAC on 25 August 2018. The project is likely to provide major boost to Govts Make in India initiative and fillip to manufacturing capability for helicopters in India.

The Request for EoI from Indian private companies for participating in the project has been hosted on MoD/ Indian Navy website on 12 February 2019. However, the Request for EoI from foreign OEMs has been forwarded to companies that participated in the RFI deliberations. The OEMs have been mandated to set up dedicated manufacturing line, including design, integration and manufacturing processes for NUH in India and make Indian Manufacturing Line as a global exclusive facility for the NUH platform being offered.

While Indian companies have been given two months to respond to the EoI, the foreign OEMs have been given three months for responding due to the nature of inputs required. High level of indigenisation i.e about 60% of the helicopter is desired through the NUH project. The RFP for procurement is likely to be issued towards the end of third quarter of 2019 to the shortlisted Indian companies.

The helicopter should be twin-engine, piloted by two pilots, having wheeled landing gear and blade fold capability. The helicopter should be capable of operating from ships and ashore. Towards maritime surveillance and targeting capability, weapons to meet the envisaged role would be required to be integrated with the helicopters. OEM(s) are requested to provide quantified technical, operational and maintenance parameters as queried in Appendix A, as per existing/ achievable capabilities (with time frame). In addition, the OEM is to provide Para-wise compliance for all aspects along with specific comments for compliance (if any). Supporting relevant documents and literature are to be provided. Vendors may also utilise this opportunity to recommend the capabilities proposed. OEMs may provide additional info, if any, considered suitable towards performance of helicopter.

The Foreign OEM is to indicate the Basic Design (Base Model) of a proven helicopter based on which the current design is being proposed along with the names of customer navies or Coastguard to whom the same or similar helicopter (model of helicopter) has been contracted or delivered. In addition, the range of Air launched Light Weight Torpedoes and Depth Charges that are available in the world market and have already been integrated or capable of being integrated into the basic design of helicopter on offer is to be indicated.

In line with the Make in India initiative of the Government of India, the OEM is to ensure that all efforts are made to maximize the Indigenous Content (IC) of the project without any deterioration in performance standards. India has developed a vibrant industrial ecosystem of helicopter equipment which is engaged in design and manufacture of cutting edge components and equipment for use on other Indian Projects. OEMs are to maximize Indigenous Content (IC) in the proposed design. The IC will be stipulated in the EoI and shall not be less than 40% on cost basis of the Make portion of contract.

The minimum Service Life of the Helicopter is required to be 30 years. The OEM is required to give details of the reliability model, reliability prediction and its validation by designer or manufacturer to ensure reliability of stores throughout the service life of the Helicopters. In addition availability of stores/ spares is to be ensured as stipulated in Product Support Requirements.

A techno-commercial Request for Proposal (RFP) for Naval Utility Helicopters was issued to eight vendors on 4 August 2012 for a total of 56 Naval Utility Helicopters to replace its fleet of ageing Chetak helicopters. This was Navy's second major "rotary wing" project. The first is for around 90 Multi-Role Helicopters in the 9 to 12.5-tonne class, with potent combat capabilities as well as customized for amphibious assaults and commando operations, at a cost of over $2.5 billion to replace ageing Sea King helicopters.

The twin-engine helicopters, with a 4,500-kg maximum "all up" weight and capable of operating from warship decks, will be armed with 70mm rocket launchers and 12.7mm guns as well as lightweight torpedoes and depth charges. With a "modern airframe design, proven fuel-efficient engines and fully-integrated advanced avionics", these new helicopters will replace the existing fleet of Chetaks inducted over three decades earlier.

The RFP was issued to several major helicopter, firms including AgustaWestland, Bell Helicopter, Eurocopter and Russian Helicopters. Two companies responded to the RFP - Eurocopter AS565 MB Naval Panther, a military variant of the popular Dauphin, and the AgustaWestland AW139. In response to the RFP, M/S Eurocopters, France and M/S Agusta Westland S.p.A Italy submitted their techno-commercial proposals on 4 March 2013. RFP of the procurement case was retracted by the Government on 13 October 2014.

The Italian Finmecania Company's Agusta Westland A 109 Platform and the French owned Airbus Helicopters AS 565 Panther Helicopter were decent Platform which suited Indian Navy needs. HAL expressed its inability to bid against the requirement citing challenges in modifying its Dhruv to feature folding rotor blades.

The Indian Navy hosted on the website a Request for Information for more than 100 Naval Utility Helicopter in October 2014. No Request for Proposal was issued, therefore the question of permitting Agusta Westland to bid for the Naval Utility Helicopter in April 2015 does not arise.

The Ministry of Defence, Government of India, intended to replace the existing fleet of Chetak and augment the fleet by more than 100 Naval Utility Helicopters (having full SAR & Utility capabilities, HADR capability, anti piracy & anti terrorism and limited Maritime Surveillance & Targeting capability). This RFI sought inputs towards procurement of the helicopter under the category of Buy & Make (Indian).

The helicopter should be able to perform the following roles by day and night:-

  • (a) Search and Rescue.
  • (b) Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC).
  • (c) Communication Duties.
  • (d) Anti-Piracy and Anti-terrorism.
  • (e) Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).
  • (f) Limited Maritime Reconnaissance and Targeting.

The helicopter should be twin-engine, having wheeled landing gear and blade fold capability. The helicopter should be capable of operating from ship and ashore. Towards maritime surveillance and targeting capability, weapons to meet the envisaged role would be required to be integrated with the helicopters.

The government was exploring whether their manufacturing can be pursued under "Make in India". The Buy & Make (Indian) decision would mean purchase from an Indian vendor (including an Indian company forming joint venture/ establishing production arrangement with OEM), followed by licensed production/ indigenous manufacture in the country. Buy & Make (Indian) must have minimum 50% indigenous content on cost basis.

Airbus had expressed interest to tie up with six Indian companies, including Tatas, Reliance and Bharat Forge, before selecting Mahindra Defence as partner. "We have extensive expertise in engineering, automotive and fixed-wing sectors and have made substantial investments in aero components manufacturing, while Airbus Helicopters offers best-in-class rotorcraft platforms. Together, we will produce Indias next-generation helicopters that will not only answer our countrys defence needs but also have the potential for exports in the future, said S P Shukla, group president (aerospace and defence), and chairman, Mahindra Defence Systems.

Textron and Hindustan Aeronautics were also in the competition for the utility helicopter contract.

India is the worlds largest importer of defence equipment and spends around $24 billion a year, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. And this meant import substitution and indigenization.

Domestic private firms have a significant opportunity, says Kabir Bogra, associate partner at New Delhi-based law firm Khaitan and Co. The serious players in the space have been investing for the past decade or more (Tata group, BFL, L&T) and have built a portfolio in electronics, land systems, aerospace products and short-range missiles. Most of these are either in talks or have already concluded framework arrangements with foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), therefore to a large extent, the preparatory work is completed or in progress, he said.

"However, for them to deliver on their potential, the government needs to be commercially sensitive and a few large contracts need to be commissioned. Most notably, NUH (naval utility helicopter) tender needs to be taken on priority along with artillery products to send a clear signal to the domestic industry that things are moving. The ministry of defence needs to commit itself to time frames for concluding these, Bogra said.

The tender to buy NUH was scrapped in 2014 after years of process or inviting proposals and tenders. But now things are different as the government aimed to revive the private sector.



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