Dhruv likely to spread wings in Latin America

Written by Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: May 31 2009, 05:21am hrs
After the ministry of external affairs scuppered failed to sell the advanced light helicopters (ALH) `Dhruv to Bolivia, the ministry of defence (MoD) is keeping its fingers crossed for deal that it is trying to make with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The ministry is trying to sell the Indian helicopters to the three Latin American countries with which talks are going on.

Highly placed diplomatic sources told FE that, Countries like Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay have been showing interest in Indian defence products, especially the ALH `Dhruv. Preliminary discussions have already started and presentations about the `Dhruv have been made by the MoD and officials Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to the concerned authorities.

According to diplomatic sources, the turning down of Bolivian governments request for a line of credit to buy `Dhruvs by the MEA dealt a big blow to the efforts that were made both by MoD and the ambassadors in the region. This action has also hurt Indias defence exports, which is currently around Rs 400 crore each year.

Senior officers in the MoD expressed surprise at the MEAs decision to deny the line of credit and refused to discuss the topic further. According to them, exporting Indian defence equipment needs a lot of aggressive marketing and unfortunately the MEA did not realise the dent it would create in the defence exports.

Of five Dhruvs, delivered to Ecuador this year, one was fitted as a VIP transport for the Ecuadorian president. India has also supplied Dhruvs to Nepal and to Mauritius on easy credit, even as gifts.

Just when the Chilean Air Force was about to finalise its deal to buy Dhruv, it backed out at the last minute and instead chose to buy American Bell Helicopters.

The HALs Dhruvs are not only cheap in price but are very rugged and diplomats in the Lat American countries are hoping to buy these as their budgets are not very high, explained an envoy.

In addition to recently delivered seven ALHs from Ecuadorian Air Force, we are expecting a follow-up order from Ecuador, which we hope to get soon, taking total to nine, said a HAL official.

By showcasing the utility variant of the multi-role copters at various air shows, HAL has not only spread its awareness in the global market, but also generated a lot of enquiries about its features, functions and operational aspects, he said. HAL plans to set up a maintenance base and marketing office in South America to serve its potential customers and pitch for more orders.

The state-owned HAL bagged the Ecuador order, valued at $51 million for seven Dhruvs through a competitive bid in which Elbit, Eurocopter and Kazan participated. The defence major had supplied a civil variant to Nepal under bilateral military cooperation between the two countries.