India to build advanced attack helicopter

By Gulshan Luthra, IANS

Paris : India's state-owned aviation major Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has started work on building with composite materials an advanced attack helicopter that can operate in the Himalayan heights of Jammu and Kashmir.

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According to HAL chairman and managing director Ashok Baweja, there were some good American, Russian and European helicopters available in the market but they were made of sheet metal and not designed to operate at heights over 8,000 metres.

HAL's new helicopter will be made of sophisticated composite materials that can withstand humidity and harsh climates much better than machines made from metals.

Powering HAL's helicopter, Baweja said, would be the "very powerful" Shakti engine that drives the indigenously developed Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH) that has already entered service with the Indian armed forces.

There would also be collaboration between the state-run and private industry to create a supply chain for various aircraft and helicopters, Baweja said.

The decision to manufacture the Light Attack Helicopter (LAH) apparently stems from the fact that neither the Indian Air Force (IAF) nor the Indian Army had such machines during the 1999 Kargil war to tackle the Pakistani troops who had occupied the heights in the area.

Because of this, the IAF had to deploy modified Mi-17 transport helicopters and combat jets like the MiG-27 and the Mirage-2000 that are not designed to operate in such an environment.

Baweja also said HAL had received a request for proposal (RFP) from Chile for six Dhruv helicopters, and that two would also be supplied to Bolivia.

Efforts were also on to win an order in Turkey.

According to Baweja, HAL had invested $40-50 million on expanding its production facilities to help speed up deliveries of aircraft and various systems to the Indian armed forces.

Baweja's upbeat statements come as global aerospace majors like Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and EADS are setting up partnerships with the Indian industry to supply and manufacture vital equipment ranging from aircraft and helicopters to long-range detection-and-attack systems.

Thanks to the offset advantages and the transfer of technology that would come from arrangements with foreign companies, Baweja said he expected HAL's turnover to grow three to five times over the next few years from its current $2 billion figure.

The offset clause was introduced in India's new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) under which 30 percent of all defence deals valued at over Rs.3 billion has to be reinvested in the country. The DPP also mandates technology transfer in all defence purchases.

Raytheon International President Torkel Patterson told IANS that the company, which provides combat systems for most US ships and aircraft, would be ready to share its most secretive technology "if the US and Indian governments agreed".

Raytheon was also open to partnerships with HAL and other Indian public and private companies, Torkel added.

However, US companies can supply sophisticated equipment only if the State Department clears their sale to a foreign country.

Patterson said Raytheon was supplying sensor equipment to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for its Chandrayan moon mission to detect water or ice on its surface.