India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, or HAL, has floated a global request for information for the purchase of engines to power its homemade multi-role helicopter.
“Having designed the helicopter, there is very little else that HAL has on its table, except setting up manufacturing facilities. Even the avionics of the IMRH will be imported,” said Vijainder Thakur, a defense analyst and retired Indian Air Force squadron leader, referring to the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter.
HAL, which is India’s sole aircraft and helicopter producer, is developing the 12.5-ton class multi-role helicopter with a service ceiling of about 20,000 feet and a 3,500 kilogram payload. The company is aiming to freeze the preliminary design of its IMRH so it can be built over the next 18 months.
Safran of France is a preferred HAL partner for helicopter engines, having visited India in May 2017 to discuss the requirement, Thakur said, adding that Ukraine is pitching its variant of the Mi-17 helicopter engine.
Around 200 of the helicopters are proposed to be built for use by the Indian defense forces, including the Indian Navy, Air Force and Army for tactical troop movement, heliborne and amphibious assault, anti-submarine warfare, and anti-surface operations.
An Indian Ministry of Defence official, however, said HAL cannot go ahead without the support of and clear visibility from government.
“If support comes from leading foreign origin equipment manufacturers for engines, landing gear [and so on], then it would take easily eight to 10 years” for development, the MoD official said.
A HAL official said each IMRH could cost more than $30 million.
Sources say the IMRH is just a revival of HAL’s earlier medium-lift program, which was grounded in 2008. They also noted that the Navy is simply not interested in IMRH, and the only takers would be the Army and Air Force.
Safran Helicopter Engines of France is likely to be a front-runner for the supply of engines and consultancy, in addition to General Electric of the U.S. and Rolls-Royce of the U.K.
The floating of an RFI does spur a question mark on the fate of the 2013 tender to purchase 14 Airbus EC725 helicopters. Similarly, the tender for the purchase of 16 S-70 multi-role helicopters from Sikorsky looks uncertain, according to an Indian Navy source.
However, Thakur said, the IMRH is not being developed to qualitative staff requirements from any service. “HAL doesn’t have experience in building 10- to 12-ton-class medium helicopters capable of operating from ships to boot,” he said.
A HAL official said the proposed IMRH will be powered by twin engines (to be identified), equipped with automatic flight control system, state-of-the-art mission systems, and advanced cockpit display and avionic systems, to meet the utility and armed roles of Indian armed forces. A dedicated naval variant is also planned.