Indian Navy's plan to acquire the latest Naval Multi-Role Helicopters (NMRH), has reached to a critical point to counter security issues in Indian Ocean Region after China displayed its indigenously developed Z-20 helicopters this month. Harbin Z-20 choppers are being dubbed as "Copyhawk" by Western observers, it looks almost similar to the American UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. But given its high-altitude medium utility for operations and the absence of a multi-role helicopter, the development has come as an alarming bell for India.
News agency IANS reports that defence experts are of the view that India's home-grown ship-building industry now delivering surface ships at a greater pace and the country lacks enough multi-role helicopters to guard them against submarine attacks which are the real threats in Naval warfare. India's anti-submarine and anti-surface vessel warfare is struggling badly for a medium utility choppers at sea. It has been more than 40 years ago that the UK-manufactured Seaking choppers were inducted into the Indian Navy and since then it has been upgraded even once. Moreover, Indian Navy has already de-commissioned the Sea Harriers that are designed for reconnaissance and fighter roles. This means Indian Navy is operating with a sole frontline squadron of Seaking helicopters based at INS, Shikra in Mumbai.
With time ticking, Indian Navy needs to finalize on whether it would go with the acquisition of these choppers or manufacture indigenously. Notably, Since 2013 Navy has been taking the services of US-made P8I, for surveillance purposes. Further, if the reports are to be believed India and the US finalized a deal to acquire 10 more of the long-range anti-submarine warfare platform P8I.
Retired Commander KP Sanjeev Kumar, a former Navy test pilot, however, questioned P8I's ability to quickly launch attacks. He argued, "The P8I, though a formidable platform in its own capacity, cannot deliver the functions of a multi-role helicopter. A multi-role helicopter, for instance, can operate from ship decks out at sea, perform anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface vessel warfare, electronic intelligence, surveillance tasks, carry out urgent attacks, operate independent of shore bases for an extended duration and act as the long arm of the fleet."
He further went on to add, "The multi-role helicopter can deploy sono buoys, which are basically high-fidelity listening devices' in water, just like the P8I does. In addition, dunking sonars can be lowered underwater using cables - role only a multi-role helicopter can fill. Remember, a submarine has no weapon against a helicopter."
Indian Navy has already floated a global Request for Information (RFI) for 123 Naval Multi-Role Helicopters in 2017 but the deal is still under process. India is also planning to acquire 23 multi-role MH-60R Seahawk choppers from the United States.