MoD expert rejects foreign helicopter, HAL says Dhruv is suitable - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 15 January 2020

MoD expert rejects foreign helicopter, HAL says Dhruv is suitable

The Dhruv helicopter delivery line at HAL Bangalore

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Jan 20

With the ministry of defence (MoD) poised to sanction on Friday a Rs 21,738 crore project to build 111 naval utility helicopters (NUH) in an Indian private sector firm, an MoD expert has suggested the project be scrapped.

The MoD and the navy want the NUH to be a foreign helicopter, built through the “strategic partner” (SP) model. This involves selecting a deep-pocketed Indian private firm as the SP, which will build the helicopters in India using technology supplied by a separately selected foreign “original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

However, former integrated defence staff chief, Vice Admiral Raman Puri (retired), who the department of defence production (DDP) has appointed as a consultant, has advised against inducting a foreign helicopter as NUH, when defence public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is in a position to supply a naval version of its indigenous Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH).

Puri has recommended the indigenous Dhruv chopper over a foreign design, citing Para 23 of Chapter II of the Defence Procurement Policy of 2016 (DPP-2016), which states: “Preference will be given to indigenous design, development and manufacture of defence equipment. Therefore, whenever the required arms, ammunition and equipment are possible to be made by Indian industry, within the time lines required by the services, the procurement will be made from Indian sources.”

On November 19, the MoD asked HAL for its comments. HAL has replied that it is “generally in agreement with the viewpoints provided by the consultant.”

Puri also pointed out that Para 23 states: “Accordingly the [MoD’s] categorisation committee, while considering categorisation under the DPP will follow a preferred order of categorisation,” in which “Buy (Indian – IDDM)” is top priority. IDDM is the acronym for “Indian Designed, Developed and Manufactured,” a criterion the Dhruv ALH meets.

HAL has pointed out to the MoD that the Dhruv ALH has been in operation with the navy and coast guard for about two decades. It notes: “ALH has proved its robustness in all operating conditions, as validated by accruing more than 260,000 flying hours and [flying] more than 280 helicopters in the services of various customers.”

The navy has opted for a foreign helicopter, to be built on the SP model, because the Dhruv ALH does not have foldable rotor blades that allow it to be parked within the cramped confines of a hangar on a warship.

But HAL’s response to the MoD states: “The design of ALH is such that role change can be achieved with minimum modifications and minimum time, which will enable the navy to use this helicopter…” 

HAL wrote that, while it did not earlier possess technology for foldable blades for the Dhruv, it “initiated a project with internal funding to design and develop a blade/tail boom folding mechanism on the ALH, which will meet the stowage requirements of the NUH.”

HAL executives say foldable blades can be easily developed in 2-3 years, a period shorter than what the MoD would take to sign a global NUH contract.

HAL’s letter also notes that the tender requires the foreign OEM to transfer nine critical technologies, which include a rotor system, transmission system, hydraulics, self-sealing fuel tanks, vibration isolation system and others. “All these critical technologies are available with HAL in the case of the ALH-based NUH, as it is HAL’s own development,” says HAL’s letter, which Business Standard has reviewed.

HAL also claims that “many other critical and advanced technologies [are] available with HAL, like the avionics system, glass cockpit, composite airframe technologies etc.”

Puri’s recommendations also reflect his opinion that it would be wasteful to buy a foreign helicopter, pay for transfer of technology, and develop manufacturing capability in an Indian private sector SP when all this already exists with HAL.

He has pointed out that the SP’s new manufacturing line would have no work after building 111 NUHs for the navy. The “transfer of technology” cost paid to the OEM and the cost of setting up a new NUH production line would make a foreign NUH far more expensive than the Dhruv, which HAL already manufactures in Bengaluru.

“Since the ALH-based NUH is conceived, designed and developed by HAL, there is no necessity for any ToT and thus a substantial amount of foreign exchange… can be saved,” HAL has argued.

HAL has also pointed out that it would be able to integrate weapons and sensors to meet the navy’s requirements in the future, upgrade the platform at any stage in its life-cycle, resolve technical issues and carry out “obsolescence management”, which involves ensuring the supply of spare parts all through its service life.

Puri’s intervention and HAL’s argument will not be welcomed by private sector firms who have responded to the MoD’s NUH tender. These includeTataAdvanced Systems Ltd, Adani Defence, Mahindra Defence, Reliance Defence and the Kalyani Group. In addition HAL submitted two responses – one in its individual capacity and another in a joint venture with Russian Helicopters Ltd called Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd (IRHL).

The foreign helicopters in the fray include two Airbus helicopters – the AS 565 Mbe (Panther) and the H145M – as well as US firm Sikorsky’s S76D and the Russian Kamov 226T. The Panther is regarded as the front runner.


  1. The country's gain would be somebody else's loss.

  2. It actually makes sense ! Numerous experts have argued that ALH Dhruv is suitable for naval work in the light category. If the rotors are not foldable, either HAL can be asked to develop fold-able rotors or only the rotors can be imported or even the tech can be bought. What is the need to import the whole helicopter?

    And how many types of helicopters are going to fly in India? Has anyone thought about the logistics part with nearly 11-12 type of helicopters in service and oncoming? Instead of focusing upon getting NMRH medium helicopters for ASW and vertical envelopment roles, this excessive focus on importing light helos is troublesome.

    In addition, Navy can use the NLCA in its training role like US Navy's Goshawk ! It has been sending its naval pilots to train on US Navy's LIFT fighters for carrier aviation. It would be better to have couple of squadrons of NLCA and use them to refine training of its fighter pilots. The data from these NLCA LIFT Trainers will help the future TEDBF fighter's development immensely.

    Instead of going through these judicious, cost-effective indigenous and immensely rewarding options for future, the Indian Navy is gradually catching the IAF disease of continuous imports ! Already India has an Imported Air Force (IAF). Is there any need for having another imported aviation structure in Navy as well??

  3. Unless we come out of the political compulsions and bureaucratic grip of the PSUs India will not become self reliant. The toughest option is to privatise the PSUs with huge incentive if at all possible.

  4. The fact that Dhruv is not an indigenous product is well known. The helicopter carries assemblies, sub assemblies and systems that are sourced from vaious countries in the world. In 2008 2008), more than 50% of the value of material used in each Dhruv is still from foreign suppliers. HAL has made more than 4,000 aircraft. Almost all are licenced copies, besides the about 150 HF-24 Maruts, India’s only home-made fighter and a failure. HAL has a simple business model: The government buys a foreign plane, adds a co-production deal and gifts it to HAL.

    And ask the service people that are flying these things . These have been notoriously unreliable . So much so that in 2015 Ecuadorian defence minister Fernando Cordero announced plans to cancel a Rs 200 crore contract seven years after it was signed in 2008 and retire the three remaining ALHs (after four had crashed). If that's not egg on the face then what is?

    As an aside, did anybody tell you that ‘Marine One’, the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter that the US President flies, has a cabin made in Hyderabad by a Tata company? It’s a direct joint venture, not a result of gifted offsets (As in the case of HAL, or Ordnance Factories or the other (in)competent Defence Public Sector Units. The company is now growing into making cabins for Chinooks and Apaches for the global supply chain. The best in the world are acknowledging the strength of the Indian private sector. It’s just that we aren’t.

    Points to ponder.

  5. The naval helicopter saga is ongoing for at least 5 years. Why did HAL not start development of foldable rotors earlier? Why Navy (customer) has to compromise? Why Dhruv despite being made for 2 decades, does not attract any exports? It looks like a mediocre product that is being pushed on forces.

  6. May we know what in your considered opinion is not indigenously made in the dhruv ? or if locally made, we are dependent on foreign tech and do not have a deep license. Assertions like these need to be substantiated.


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