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    India Floats Biggest Tender for Procurement of 234 Naval Helicopters

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    In a procurement that could be one of the biggest additions to India’s naval warfare capabilities in recent times, the Indian Navy intends to purchase at least 123 naval multi role helicopters (NMRH) with anti-submarine capabilities and light utility twin engine helicopters for offshore and shore based operations.

    New Delhi (Sputnik) — Hard pressed by operational inadequacies, the Indian Navy has made public its intentions to procure at least 234 aerial vehicles to serve in warships. A request for information (RFI) has been sought from six global manufacturers for an estimated deal of over $5 billion.

    The Indian Navy has said 123 naval multi-role helicopters should have anti-submarine warfare capabilities. The requirement has been outlined keeping in mind the growing presence of foreign submarines in the Indian Ocean region. The Indian Navy has also floated tentative requirements for light utility twin engine helicopters weighing about 4.5 tons to be used in both shore-based and offshore operations.

    The procurement would be executed under the newly approved strategic partnership (SP) model that seeks to identify an Indian private firm as a strategic partner who would tie up with a shortlisted foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEMs) to manufacture military platforms. The main criteria for the selection of OEMs would be the compatibility of their products with the Services Staff Qualitative Requirements (SQRs), and their commitment to provide technology and other assistance to enable their Indian partners to produce in India with maximum localization.

    Experts are of the view that this deal is going to be an acid test of India's new defense procurement policy as it would attest the viability of the strategic partnership model.

    "The strategic partnership model is still not clearly defined. The defense procurement policy has merely outlined the framework of this initiative. Identifying a strategic partner, nominating it for helicopter manufacturing and that too for two programs — the NUH and the NMRH is in itself challenging. The OEM has to be identified for which this RFI is only the first step. In the meantime, the SP has to be identified and nominated. Then the OEMs and the SP have to negotiate their arrangement and only after that is there likely to be a contract. The SP then has to create helicopter manufacturing facility and after that start production. Then there are issues of licensing, ToT, certification, responsibility etc which need to be addressed. Hence this is not only going to be time-consuming but will require very deft handling, effective decision making and policy implementation," Commodore Anil Jai Singh, Indian Navy (Retd) and head of Indian Maritime Foundation told Sputnik.

    Meanwhile, sources say that considering the severe deficiency of helicopters, the Indian Navy may procure some of the helicopters off the shelf and the remaining will be manufactured in India. Indian Navy has said it expects delivery of light utility helicopters from 2024 onwards. Presently, there is a deficiency to the extent of 100 integral helicopters on existing ships. Indian warships such as INS Chennai, INS Kochi, and INS Delhi are moving without new helicopters.

    The overseas manufacturers are required to respond to the RFI by 15th of October this year after which a formal request for proposal will be issued. The proposal should include detailed technical specifications of the helicopters including required offset obligations among other things. Indian Navy sources told Sputnik that Airbus Helicopters (Europe), Russian Helicopters (Russia), and Bell Helicopter (US) are some of the contenders in the list. Domestic companies including Bharat Forge, Mahindra Aerospace, Reliance Defense, Larsen & Toubro, and Tata Advanced Systems are the prospective strategic partners hoping to be picked out by the defense ministry.

    "None of the Indian companies barring HAL have ever built a helicopter. This in itself is a challenge. Further, the NMRH is a very complex machine and will require great skill to build. Unfortunately any delay in these programs- and there will definitely be delays- will seriously impact the Navy's ASW anti-submarine combat capability which even at present is not in very good health. The ministry's fundamental decision-making process needs to be reviewed. While these experiments with R&D, indigenous manufacture and now SPs etc. are all very laudable objectives, the nation's combat capability cannot be held hostage to them, "Anil Jai Singh added.

    To make up for the deficiency, a mid-life upgrade of 28 Kamov helicopters is being undertaken by Indian Navy. Helicopters requirement will go up further as 35 ships are under construction at various shipyards and will be part of the Indian Navy soon. Currently, Indian Navy has 121 ships, 15 submarines and 232 aircraft which may go up to 198 ships and submarines by 2027.

    In June this year, India retracted a tender for 16 naval multi-role helicopters with American firm Sikorsky after the two sides failed to reach a mutually agreed price despite negotiations since 2014.

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