Military & Aerospace

Boosting the Helicopter Industry in India
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Issue Vol. 30.1 Jan-Mar 2015 | Date : 18 May , 2015

Ka-226T multi-role Helicopter

Offering the new light helicopter to India, Russia intends to share new technologies with the Indian aerospace industry. These technologies can set an industrial base for high-technological production development. The implementation of offers included in Ka-226T offset programme may take the collaboration between Russia and India in the aviation industry to a new level. What is the essence of the Russian offer to India? First of all, it includes the establishment of Ka-226T production in India that can be performed by joint facility of “Russian Helicopters” and Indian SUN Group. It is planned to organise the manufacturing of main Ka-226T parts including fuselage, column and main rotor to perform final assembling, to conduct ground/flight factory and acceptance tests. The helicopters produced by the joint facility can be sold not only to the Indian Ministry of Defence, but also to foreign customers. So, India may obtain a required export product, a unique experience of high-technological manufacturing organisation and high-skilled jobs.

The realisation of India’s ambitious plans in the area of defence capacity increase will face in 2015 some problems…

As per Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the production of Ka-226T and Mi-  helicopters will be established in India. The appropriate agreement was reached during negotiations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which took place on December 11, 2014. “There are two contracts, one regards Mi-17 which the Indian side really wants. The second includes Ka-226T which is a big contract to conduct assembling in India”, Rogozin said. According to him, India plans to produce approximately 400 Kamov helicopters. Previously, Russian Ka-226 was a competitor to the European AS550 Fennec within the programme with the proposal calling for about 200 Light Utility Helicopters. Earlier this year, it became widely known that the tender had been cancelled. As Rogozin pointed out, the reasons were determined by the special requirements of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the uniqueness of the Ka-226’s technical characteristics. The helicopters would be produced with modifications for operating in the maritime and mountainous environment.

Earlier, the Deputy Director of “Russian Helicopters” Vadim Ligai had said, “The holding was conducting negotiations to open a production facility in India. India continuously contacts us regarding the manufacturing process setup. The issue of joint Ka-226-type helicopters production is being discussed”, said Ligai. “Many developing markets want to establish local high-quality production of different items. The holding is doing such works. We should define the best option, which will allow both to continue production in Russia and to share with something,” Ligai pointed out. According to him, India is the biggest market for Russian helicopters and Russia intends to increase its presence here. “India is our traditional market; there are hundreds of our helicopters flying here. We are supplying this country with the most advanced helicopters which we have in our product line”, Ligai said.

At the same time, the realisation of India’s ambitious plans in the area of defence capacity increase will face in 2015 some problems related to insufficient funding and so-called “Make in India” strategy, proposed by the new government. The list of required aircraft includes the long-awaited supply of 126 Rafale multi-role fighters to the tune of more than $20 billion, the additional acquisition of 106 PC-7 Pilatus flight trainers, most of which are planned to be produced by the local aeronautical industry, 22 AH-64 Apache combat helicopters and 50 CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters.

The government has taken some decisive actions to reduce the defence production import…

The government has taken some decisive actions to reduce the defence production import, whose volumes are estimated at the level of $130 billion in the forthcoming five-year period. It is supposed that all offers without the local aerospace industry involvement will be rejected. However, some high-ranking defence officials believe that the top-priority import acquisitions should be implemented to provide the readiness of the national armed forces.

Considering the Russian offers that can be realised in India in the shortest time possible in the area of helicopters, the acquisition of Ka-226 Light Utility Helicopters may be the most attractive option. The Ka-226 participated in the tender to provide India with 197 multi-role reconnaissance helicopters that started in 2008. Only two helicopters reached the final stage of the tender, the “Russian helicopters” rotor-wing aircraft and the Airbus Helicopters one. The tender was cancelled in 2014.

Having finished the trials, the tender committee concluded “According to the conducted trials results, Ka-226T of Rosoboronexport (the Rosoboronexport company makes deliveries of ‘Russian Helicopters’ military production) and AS-550 C3 Fennec of Airbus Helicopters meet the operational requirements. Both Ka-226T and AS-550 C3 are recommended for service introduction to the Indian armed forces (Army and Air Force)”.

As per reports, the trials of both helicopters were conducted under different weather conditions. The trial programme consisted of several phases. In India, helicopters have to operate in high temperatures and humidity, as well as in the snowy mountains, where cold and strong winds blow. This was the reason that the helicopters were evaluated on a large number of parameters. Both the rotary-wing aircraft have proven to be similar to each other on a number of characteristics. However, there are some differences that allow us to believe that the Russian helicopter may be the best available option for the Indian armed forces.

Mi-17 Helicopter

First of all, the Ka-226T is equipped with two engines, unlike AS-550 C3. The twin-engine configuration significantly increases flight safety, especially when exposed to enemy fire. The failure of one engine does not force the pilot to abort flight, and the helicopter has a chance to return to base. The AS-550 C3 does not have such an advantage, so the engine breakdown probability of Ka-226T is two-fold less. The Russian rotary-wing aircraft is equipped with newer engines, which were designed especially for Ka-226T. The French engine-makers developed the propulsion system that operates on different types of fuel (the Ka-226T is equipped with two Arrius 2G1 engines). It is a huge advantage in case of shortages of definite grade of fuel and lubricants deliveries. So, the fuel that is near at hand and listed in the engine guide can be serviced. The case of the AS-550 C3 propulsion system is different. When some other types of aviation fuel is used, the helicopter flight profile is restricted as the engine power significantly reduces. The characteristic of time required for engine restart in the flight (this option sometimes is necessary) is essential for the safety of pilots and passengers. The Ka-226T engines can be restarted in 35 seconds. The AS-550 C3 engine requires 45 seconds. The ten-second difference may save lives, when the helicopter is actually falling.

Growing Indian demand for helicopters has caused indigenous rotary-wing platform development…

The automatic pilot system of Ka-226T controls the helicopter in four axis and allows automatic hovering operation. The AS-550 C3 is not equipped with such a system. The propeller blades of the Ka-226T can be folded back to the tail boom. In this case, the helicopter becomes more compact and suitable for transportation especially by air and for storage.

The Russian and the European helicopters are of the same type, but the Ka-226T’s capacity is bigger by half than the AS-550 C3. The Ka-226T can transport six equipped soldiers while the AS-550 C3 can airlift only four equipped troops. The European helicopter holds two stretchers (or one stretcher and a medic), and the Russian helicopter can take two litters and two medics. The bigger cabin size also provides advantages for the civil Ka-226T modification. The Ka-226T maximum payload is 40 per cent more than that of the AS-550 C3 (1160 kg and 760 kg respectively). These characteristics determine the significant superiority of the Russian helicopter over the European rotor-wing aircraft in combat operations, emergencies and even civilian role. They substantially enlarge the list of the helicopter applications.

Offering the new light helicopter to India, Russia intends to share new technologies with the Indian aerospace industry. These technologies can set an industrial base for high-technological production development. The implementation of offers included in Ka-226T offset program may take the collaboration between Russia and India in the aviation industry to a new level. What is the essence of the Russian offer to India? First of all, it includes the establishment of Ka-226T production in India that can be performed by joint facility of “Russian Helicopters” and Indian SUN Group. It is planned to organise the manufacturing of main Ka-226T parts including fuselage, column and main rotor to perform final assembling, to conduct ground/flight factory and acceptance tests. The helicopters produced by the joint facility can be sold not only to the Indian Ministry of Defence, but also to foreign customers. So, India may obtain a required export product, a unique experience of high-technological manufacturing organisation and high-skilled jobs.

Russia intends to share new technologies with the Indian aerospace industry…

Furthermore, the Indian requirements significantly exceed 197 helicopters planned to be acquired earlier. Growing Indian demand for helicopters has led to indigenous rotary-wing platform development. This is the only option to meet the domestic demands for helicopters in a better way and to keep the state interests in the area of national security. Russia, having more than 70-year history of its rotor-wing aircraft industry, offers to organise with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) corporation joint helicopter development centre. Modification of Ka-226T to meet the requirements of the Indian Navy could be the first project. Moreover, these helicopters could participate in the advertised tender to provide 56 sea-based Light Utility Helicopters. The “Russian Helicopters” holding also offers to develop jointly a medical and SAR Ka-226T modification.

HAL has recently offered to the design bureau of the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant (MVZ) to start the joint development of Indian multi-role helicopter. In the case of Ka-226T being chosen and positive answer by the Mil design bureau, India could gain access to the experience and best practices of two world-leading engineering schools, Kamov and Mil, which are specialised in the area of coaxial and traditional helicopter design respectively. Benefits from such a project for India can hardly be overestimated. They include indigenous high-technological product and unique experience of its creation using the innovative Russian technologies.

Finally, one more item of the Russian offset program involves the establishing of training centres for pilots and maintenance personnel for Ka-226T, Mi-8/17 and other helicopters. The centre is planned to be created in partnership with several Russian companies including “Transas Aviation” and “Dynamika” and foreign partners. India currently lacks well-trained pilots and especially highly qualified maintenance personnel who can provide high quality support to modern helicopters. The Indian rotary-wing fleet has been renovating, both military and developing civil fleet. According to Ascend and Forecast International, last year, the Indian market has become the third largest after North America and Europe. It is estimated at the level of 17 per cent of all helicopters sold. India has also become second in terms of helicopters bought by countries (152 units).

The Indian requirements significantly exceed 197 helicopters planned to be acquired earlier…

The Russian-Indian collaboration in the rotary-wing regime started in the 1950s. The first helicopters that flew in the Indian skies were the Soviet Mi-4s (Hound). They were chosen after the Mi-4 had prevailed over a Sikorsky helicopter in high-altitude tests in the Himalayas. India procured 120 Mi-4, having created the strongest helicopter fleet in the region. The IAF became one of the first international Mi-8 customers. In total, 128 helicopters of that type were delivered. These rotary-wing aircraft were followed by transport Mi-26, combat Mi-25, Mi-35, Ka-25, Ka-28, Ka-31 and the upgraded Mi-8/17 with Mi-17V-5 as the most advanced helicopter of the series. Now the Kazan Helicopter plant of “Russian Helicopters” is fulfilling the orders to provide the Indian Air Force, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Cabinet Secretariat with 71 helicopters in total.

Every Indian Mi-17V-5 is equipped with modern avionics that display all helicopter systems information on four multi-functional screens. This significantly simplifies the pilots’ action and facilitates the helicopter pre-flight check. The rotary-wing aircraft being delivered to India are equipped with modern powerful engines that extend their capabilities to transport heavy and large-sized cargos in the Himalayas. The US International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) Commander, General Joseph Dunford, had recently commended these helicopters during US Congress hearings. Despite the Department of State opposition, the Pentagon has approved the finalisation of the contract to deliver Mi-17V-5 to Afghanistan. Now this country possesses 63 of the helicopters in total. “The acquisition of Russian Mi-17 helicopters by the United States for Afghanistan is pivotal in provision the country`s security. Their ability to do that would be significantly degraded without the Mi-17,” Dunford said, adding, that the lack of Mi-17 would have a “catastrophic” effect.

Bulgaria’s decision to cancel the acquisition of Russian helicopters turned out to be not a catastrophe but a huge increase of expenses to support the rotary-wing aircraft fleet. Under NATO pressure, Bulgaria partially replaced Russian helicopters by AS532 Cougar of Airbus Helicopters. The experience, which resulted in overwhelmingly expensive spare parts and maintenance, was negative. The situation was worsened by low reliability and short periods of airframe and avionics formal inspection. This feature of Cougar helicopters led to the reduction of flight hours. Most of 2012 only one of 12 acquired rotary-wing aircraft flew. The remaining helicopters were grounded waiting formal inspections and repair.

The new government intends to make India a powerful country with a thriving economy and strong military potential…

The real operational circumstances have revealed that the Airbus Helicopters rotary-wing aircraft managing is three-fold expensive than the latest modifications of Mi-8/17 helicopters. Despite the marketing specialists’ assurances that the European and even American helicopters of 9 to 11-tonne class are low-maintenance, in practice, periodical checks and other combined types of operations increase their managing cost two- or four fold compared to the Mil helicopters.

According to the offset part of the contract to supply India with 80 Mi-17V-5 helicopters signed in 2008 (the deliveries were accomplished in 2013), Russia is refitting the aircraft repairing plant in Chandigarh. In particular, the VK-2500 gas-turbine engine (Mi-17V-5 helicopters are equipped with such power plants) repairing line will be refitted. In addition, 16 instrumental equipment and the helicopter lifting system repairing lines will be organised. When the works are over, the Russian helicopters overhaul will be conducted in Chandigarh almost completely. It will allow to reduce their service costs. Only the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) possesses about 200 of Russian transport helicopters.

The recent elections in India clearly demonstrated the democratic process of change. The new government intends to make India a powerful country with a thriving economy and strong military potential. It is apparent that the base for military power can be set up by means of smart politics, boost of different processes and high-tech solutions. One of the most impressive examples of successful and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and India is the “BrahMos Aerospace” company. This is a joint enterprise, in which both sides not only use the most innovative available technologies but also jointly develop new high-tech solutions. The essential concept of this successful project is collaborative work and the incorporation of capabilities of both sides. The feasible realisation of plans to produce Ka-226T in India may lead to emergence of similar positive case in the national helicopter industry.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr Nikolai Novichkov

Dr Nikolai Novichkov is a defence journalist, writer and expert specializing in air/naval/aerospace power. He has published widely in magazines and special journals in the USA, UK and continental Europe.

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3 thoughts on “Boosting the Helicopter Industry in India

  1. With due respects to Mr. Nikolai Novichkov, who has presented a very good case for Ka 226 T helicopter, India-Russia joint ventures in defence manufacturing, considering the historic India-USSR or India-Russia relationship, I wish to pose certaiin questions to him. First in the light of present shift in Russian Foreign Policy where it is warming up to India’s tricky neighbours, i.e., China and Pakistan, forming and supporting a nexus which is certainly anti-India, why should India trust Russia to that extent in the present circumstances. Second, when India has got a fantastic response from Canadian Government, then why should India not buy world class helicopters from Bell or other reputed Canadian manufacturers. Under the present circumstances Russians cannot play dual games, i.e. Carrot and Stick policy with India.

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