Sources said that the naval version of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) that is being offered does not meet basic qualitative requirements and is unsuitable for the role required, including urgent Search and Rescue (SAR) missions at sea. As reported by ET, the naval utility helicopter (NUH) plan – originally planned for the private sector under the strategic partnership model – is going through a tussle after HAL entered the fray and has requested the government to be included.
“The ALH has a rigid rotor head and has been designed for high altitude operations, where it is very good at. The problem is that the design limits it in terms of the blade folding capability. In missions such as SAR, every minute is precious and the ALH just takes too much time to be deployed,” a source said. While the navy is already operating the ALH in a utility role, it requires 111 helicopters for deployment onboard ships to carry out multiple roles, including surveillance and ferrying supplies. The requirement is urgent and a specialised chopper is needed that can be quickly deployed and retrieved and can be stored in the space constrained hangar onboard all vessels.
The process to acquire the choppers is already in advanced stages with four Indian companies shortlisted who can partner with a foreign technology provider to make the helicopters domestically. However, the final selection is stuck after HAL put in a representation. In the original tender document, it was specified that only private sector companies are eligible to take part in the contest.
Sources said that there is a need to have capacity in the private sector too for manufacturing modern aircraft and the NUH programme will enable the identified winner to procure technology and skills. Besides the navy requirement, the winning company will have a large domestic civilian market to tap, besides a robust export potential.