In significant news for the indigenous aviation manufacturing industry, the Indian Army is considering a bulk order of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)-made light utility helicopter (LUH) by early next year, reported The Hindu.
Furthermore, the Indian Army is set to begin receiving the first LUHs from the initial batch of 12 limited series production (LSP) helicopters, which were ordered by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) in 2021 at a cost of Rs 1,500 crore.
The deliveries are scheduled to commence in December 2024.
Out of the 12 LUHs ordered, six are intended for the Indian Air Force (IAF), and the remaining six are designated for the Indian Army. It's worth noting that the delivery of these 12 helicopters experienced a delay due to an issue with the auto-pilot system.
However, this issue has now been resolved, and the delivery of all 12 LUHs is expected to be completed by June 2025.
“The issue with the auto-pilot of the LUH has been addressed and the trials by the HAL have commenced. The six LSP LUH are expected to be delivered to the Army between December 2024 and June 2025. The bigger contract for LUH is expected to be concluded by January 2024 and deliveries expected to begin by 2026 onwards,” the report quoted an army official as saying.
In an even more significant development for the defence aviation manufacturing industry, Indo-Russian deal for joint manufacturing of 200 Ka-226T helicopter by HAL is almost as good as dead.
According to The Hindu's report, the deal awaits formal cancellation, and the LUH will now meet the entire light utility helicopter requirement of both the IAF and the army.
Additionally, the Indian Army is planning to retire its older Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, starting in 2027.
Currently, the army operates a fleet of 190 Cheetah, Chetak, and Cheetal helicopters, which constitute the bulk of the army's light helicopter fleet. Furthermore, the IAF operates 120 of these helicopters, with an additional 18 newer Cheetal helicopters in its inventory.
"Of these, at anytime around 25 of them are at HAL for maintenance, which is a deficiency of around 37 per cent in this segment, the source noted. A bulk of the fleet, close to 130 of the 190, are between 30 and 50 years old," The Hindu report states.
Of the 190 Cheetah and Chetaks in service, around 134 helicopters or over 70 per cent them are over 30 years old.
These light helicopters play a vital role in supporting high-altitude posts in regions like Siachen and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) opposite China. The ongoing standoff at the LAC with China since 2020 has added more strain to this already aging helicopter fleet.
The new LUH orders will help bridge the gap left by the retiring Cheetah and Chetak helicopters in the army and IAF's light helicopter fleet.
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