Airbus Helicopters is planning a joint venture for the production of helicopters with an Indian partner, which will have a majority stake controlled by the European company, formerly known as Eurocopter.
The company’s Vice President for Sales and Customer Relations in India, Rainer Farid, told StratPost at Aero India 2015 that they have ‘initiated the process’ for identifying and tying up with an Indian partner for the proposed JV before getting approval from the Indian government.
Farid says his company anticipates a requirement for more than 250 helicopters with both, the Indian Navy’s requirement for 123 Naval Multi Role Helicopters (NMRH) as well as a future Indian Army requirement for over 150 Tactical Transport Helicopter under the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan. According to him, both these requirements could be met by Airbus Helicopters’ EC725.
The EC725 is a medium lift helicopter in the 11-ton class, which recently underwent Field Evaluation Trials (FET) for the Indian Coast Guard tender for 14 shore-based helicopters.
The NMRH requirement envisages Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti Surface Warfare (ASuW), Search and Rescue (SAR) and ELINT roles, as well as, special operations, while the army’s Tactical Transport Helicopter requirement would mostly be for transport in battlefield conditions with a larger cabin that could accommodate 25-28 troops.
Airbus Helicopters’ proposal anticipates setting up a manufacturing facility under the joint venture to service both of these requirements. According to Farid all of this makes a ‘good case to manufacture in India’ and would also match the requirements of the Indian government’s new ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Farid cited his company’s experience in Brazil where he said a multi-service order for more than 50 helicopters was met by EC725 with ‘same type, different configurations’ with a ‘condition for local manufacture of all the aircraft’.
Farid also said his company would be looking to have a controlling stake of ‘over 51 percent’ in the joint venture. This, he says, is because of the imperatives of production management, quality assurance issues and for building a global supply chain. “We would have to convince our suppliers to transfer technology to India,” he said, while adding that they still have to decide on the Indian partner.
Significantly, the US helicopter manufacturer, Sikorsky, already has a joint venture with India’s Tata to build cabins for the S-92 helicopter at Hyderabad. Sikorsky’s S-70B Seahawk was also selected by the Indian Navy last December for a USD 1 billion order for 16 Multi Role Helicopters (MRH) after a process that stretched around seven years.
But there are significant differences between the earlier MRH tender and the anticipated NMRH RFP, including increased capability and roles but most notably, a requirement to factor in Life Cycle Cost into the exercise.
The Indian Navy faces a severe shortage of helicopters with its continuing induction of new warships. As of now, the navy has 42 vessels on order in addition to the warships already in service, most of which will require between 01-02 helicopters on board. The navy currently uses the Chetak (Alouette III), Ka-28, Sea King, Ka-31 and the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH).
Eurocopter, now Airbus Helicopters, was also frustrated when a long-pending tender for 197 Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopters (RSH) (also referred to as Light Utility Helicopters) was withdrawn by the Indian defense ministry, after a process that took place over more than a decade, in which they fielded the AS550 C3 Fennec. Russian Helicopters had also bid for the order with their Ka-226T.
This came after the tender had earlier been won by Eurocopter in 2007, but was withdrawn before the order was placed.
The defense ministry issued a fresh Request For Information (RFI) for the RSH last October.
Rainer Farid told StratPost that they plan to compete for the order again and this time the proposed joint venture would lead their bid. His company is also going to compete for an order for Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) to replace the Chetak, with their AS565 MBe Panther.