The Indian Navy needs over 100 multi-role helicopters to be positioned on board its most important warships.
To meet the urgent helicopter requirement of the Indian Navy, India is expected to discuss acquiring Sea King CH-124 helicopters during the coming visit of Canada’s defence minister Harjit Sajjan. Speaking to FE on condition of anonymity, sources said: “At this time Canada is in the process of decommissioning four of its Sea King CH-124 helicopters. These four have very little hours of flying logged in, and four that were decommissioned last December were recently upgraded.” The helicopters, though being decommissioned, are still in condition of being flown.
“The Indian Navy has Sea King helicopters that have reached the end of their lives and are constantly being upgraded. The Indian side is likely to talk about these machines as these could bridge the gap and to support the depleting Indian Navy fleet as the acquisition process for new helicopters is not making any headway,” they added. Several procurement processes under various categories of helicopters, naval utility, multi-role helicopter (MRH), naval multi-role helicopter (NMRH), are all stuck due to re tendering or blacklisting of AgustaWestland.
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Price negotiations for 16 MRHs with Sikorsky S-70B multi-role helicopters were stuck initially due to difference in base pricing and later the company was taken over by Lockheed Martin, which has further complicated things. Officials said that this deal will also guide the process for procurement of the much larger deal 126 NMRHs. The tender for over 100 NUHs was reissued last year but the shadow of AgustaWestland threatens it. The depleting fleet of the Indian Navy search & rescue helicopters — AW Sea Kings and the Sikorsky UH-3H — are both lined up for the life extension. Every major warship is earmarked to carry at least two helicopters on board to be deployed in various roles. But the last multi-role helicopter to join the fleet was two decades ago.
However, replacements for these are yet come. The Indian Navy needs over 100 MRHs to be positioned on board its most important warships; however it has just about two dozen operational helicopters. These helicopters play a critical role of hunting submarines, taking on threats like enemy ships and sending early warnings about incoming aircraft and missiles to the fleet.
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The current strength of the Indian Navy is 150 warships, including two aircraft carriers, and less than one-third of the required number of helicopters available, thus forcing the navy to “pick and choose” their deployment and tasking helicopters. A senior Indian Navy officer told FE, “Helicopters are crucial in supporting ships or responding to distress calls on the high seas. But currently the numbers are so less that several ships are sharing a helicopter. ”