Indian Navy opens technical bids for light utility multirole helicopter deal
AS565 light utility helicopter of Airbus Helicopters is a strong contender for the RS 21,000-crore deal. Airbus Helicopters website

The 'Make in India' campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second stint in office has lifted off in style with the rotors revving up for one of the biggest helicopter production programmes in the country. The government has opened technical bids for manufacturing 111 light utility multirole helicopters for the Indian Navy in what would be an Rs 21,000-crore collaborative project between a foreign major and an Indian partner, media reports say.

Three major foreign players have submitted the bids making the selection process extremely competitive, a report in the Economic Times said. European manufacturer Airbus Helicopters has laid strong claim with two platforms: the H 145M and the Panther AS565. The company based in Marignane, France, has Mahindra Defence as its manufacturing partner for India. US rotorcraft maker Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation has offered its Sikorsky S 76D for Indian production. Kamov of Russia is the third player offering Ka 226T.

The Navy expected to finish examining the technical bids within two months, the report said. After the selection, the manufacturers will have to take part in field trials of the choppers to evaluate their performance. The selected foreign player is expected to set up a production line in India in collaboration with the local partner to achieve aircraft deliveries in a time-bound manner, according to sources.

The navy is simultaneously evaluating the expressions of interest (EoI) of eight Indian companies that wish to be local partners for the project. They are: Tata Aerospace and Defence, Mahindra Defence, Reliance Defence, Adani Defence, Bharat Forge and Lakshmi Machine Works apart from the state-run aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The evaluation of the companies including site visits to the facilities are expected to begin by the end of this month, the report said.

Naval officials said they hoped to complete the shortlisting of foreign and local vendors by the end of the year and move to the next level of selection. "The final step will be a formal request for proposal where the shortlisted Indian companies will make a commercial offer in partnership with the shortlisted foreign vendor," an unidentified official said.

HAL Light Utility Helicopter
The flight test of the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bengaluru. HAL is separately trying to sell the LUH to Indian Navy even while bidding to take part in the light utility helicopter programme as the local partner.Twitter/SpokespersonMoD

Among the criteria for short-listing the Indian companies are the net worth of at least Rs 800 crore, the revenue of Rs 1,800 crore and proven capability of delivering mega projects in the past.

Even while bidding to be the local partner in the programme, HAL being the only Indian producer of helicopters is trying to convince the navy to accept its light utility helicopter (LUH) as a highly viable product. Though HAL has already produced three prototypes, the requirement of foreign participation may become the major hurdle for the navy in accepting the HAL platform. HAL may also find it tough to convince naval authorities that single engine LUH could deliver as good as a performance as the twin-engine platforms that navy is after.

The tonnage of LUH at 3 tonnes could also affect its chances as the foreign players are offering choppers in the five-tonne category. Their platforms are also more versatile, allowing for improvisation in submarine hunting and reconnaissance modes.