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August 26, 2011

Defence Ministry Urged by Armed Forces to Speed up Helicopter Acquisitions

(Defense Now) : Indian Defence Ministry is currently in the process of finalizing helicopter gunships for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the winner will either be the US-made AH 64 D Apache Longbow or the Russian Mil Mi 28 (Havoc) from Russia. The deal, exclusive of weapons and ammunition, is to be to the tune of $ 550 million and a decision is expected this month.

The IAF intends to procure 22 attack helicopters and the trials have already been conducted in India as well in Russia and U.S for their respective helicopters. At present, the attack helicopter fleet comprises of ageing Soviet-origin Mi 25 and Mi 35 choppers with the IAF but is being used to support land operations of the Indian Army. As for the two contenders for the attack helicopter, the Russian’s have offered the twin-engine, twin-cockpit Mi 28 which has a single under-nose gun and rocket pods attached to short wings. On the other hand, U.S is offering the Boeing-made AH64 D Apache helicopter which is a four-blade, twin-engine attack helicopter that fires Hellfire missiles and has a tandem cockpit for two. The Russian and the U.S helicopters are heavily armoured for close combat.

Besides the attack helicopters, the IAF will also be inking a contract this year for the acquisition of heavy-lift helicopters and the main contenders are Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook helicopter and the Russian Mil Mi 26 T2 helicopters. The IAF is looking to buy 15 heavy-lift helicopters chiefly to enable the transportation of the BAe Land Systems M777 ultra-light howitzers to high-altitude posts. A heavy lift chopper is of strategic value as it can lift up to 70 armed troops and even lift artillery guns like the ultra-light howitzers which are being procured for deployment in mountainous areas bordering China and Pakistan. Among its several other usages is the rapid deployment of missile launchers for Agni or Prithvi from one place to other. Mi-26 with 20-tonne carrying capacity, which is the biggest among choppers, have even lifted Bofors guns to higher reaches, placed bulldozers at a height of 16,500 feet and landed critical equipment for the IAF at places like Ladakh.

Besides the acquisition of attack and heavy-lift helicopters, the most crucial contract is for the 197 light-utility helicopters for both the IAF and Indian Army which may be expanded to over 300 helicopters. The Eurocopter AS 550 Fennec and the Russian Kamov Ka 226 helicopters are in the race for this contract for which trials have been completed. These light-utility helicopters are meant for surveillance but can be used for combat operations as they can be armed. They will replace the vintage Cheetahs and Chetaks with the Armed Forces. 
 
The IAF and the Indian Army have been urging the Defence Ministry to speed up these acquisitions as they were first initiated about seven years ago and are long overdue. The acquisition always gets dogged by some controversy or the other and the global tender for the choppers has even being cancelled earlier due to allegations of corruption or single-vendor situation.

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