HAL chairman provides updates on key helicopter programs

Avatar for KP Sanjeev KumarBy KP Sanjeev Kumar | June 18, 2020

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 9 seconds.

HAL chairman and managing director R. Madhavan has provided key updates into ongoing Indian helicopter programs, including HAL’s participation in India’s Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) program.

Three HAL LUH prototypes have together completed over 550 flights. HAL Photo
Three HAL LUH prototypes have together completed over 550 flights. HAL Photo

NUH is the first experiment in a strategic partnership (SP) program rolled out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, with the aim of creating private sector capacity in major aerospace and defence manufacturing in India. HAL has offered the naval “Dhruv” Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) for the NUH program. Ship compatibility issues have thus far relegated the Dhruv to a largely shore-based role in the Navy, while the other two services reaped the benefits of newer variants.

In a recent interview with Livefist Defence, Madhavan confirmed HAL is “pushing the Dhruv in the NUH contract” with a couple of changes: blade folding and (tail) boom folding. “I can categorically say [the Dhruv] can meet all the [NUH] QRs,” Madhavan stated.

HAL’s joint venture partnership, Indo Russian Helicopters Limited (IRHL), has also offered the Russian light-twin Ka-226T for the light helicopter requirements of the Army and Air Force. Madhavan said that all technical evaluations of this project have been completed and they are now waiting for a final decision from the Indian defence ministry. HAL has earmarked land for setting up production facilities near Bengaluru, India for the Ka-226T. However, no orders are in sight.

HAL’s own 3-ton Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) achieved initial certification on Feb 7 this year. Three LUH prototypes have been built that have cumulatively completed over 550 flights. Madhavan pointed out that LUH certification for the Air Force is complete and another round of “hot and high” trials for the army is planned in August.

Success of LUH will not be without its impact on IRHL’s Ka-226T, given that both programs are competing in the same fleet replacement program for Alouettes and Lamas. The Navy’s future plans do not include any single-engine helicopters.

Price negotiations for indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) have been completed and orders are expected by year-end, Madhavan revealed. Over 150 LCH are planned to be inducted by the Air Force and Army. Indian defence ministry approved initial lot of 15 LCH in 2016 (10 for Air Force and 5 for Army). HAL has already started production of the first five LCH in anticipation of the order, Madhavan said.

HAL's LCH shown during cold weather trials. HAL Photo
HAL’s Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) shown during cold weather trials. HAL Photo

HAL has started the preliminary design for the 10- to 12-ton Indian Multirole Helicopter (IMRH) with internal funding. “We don’t want [India] to again buy a foreign aircraft there,” Madhavan asserted. HAL is looking at 325 to 350 IMRH, excluding the Navy component, “which is doubtful,” as per Madhavan. These are replacements for the Mi-17 variants held with IAF. Madhavan said it would take seven years to field the IMRH “if we start it today.” This is ambitious by any standard, if HAL plans a completely new design from scratch. Specifications and the induction route are also yet to be formalized.

CMD Madhavan signed off on a conciliatory note that “we are dependent on [customers]. They may not be as dependent on us,” signalling a truce and better customer relations going forward.

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