Army issues tender to lease 20 light helicopters

Replacement of ageing Cheetah and Chetak helicopters has been repeatedly delayed

July 21, 2023 04:37 am | Updated 08:10 am IST - MADRID/ NEW DELHI

In the latest effort to procure utility helicopters amid huge increase in operational commitments on the northern borders and delays in various procurement programmes, Indian Army has floated a tender for leasing 20 Light Helicopters, for reconnaissance and surveillance, for a period of five years. These are in the category of the ageing Cheetah and Chetaks, the replacement of which has been repeatedly delayed.

“The Ministry of Defence (MoD), Government of India (Lessee), intends to lease 20 Helicopters (Reconnaissance & Surveillance Helicopters) with ground support equipment for five years. This lease will also include all maintenance support including Performance Based Logistics (PBL) and training of aircrew and maintenance crew during the term of the lease,” the Request For Information (RFI) issued on Wednesday said. The MoD seeks information from helicopter Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) or authorised Indian Leasing Firms for participation in the lease project in accordance with Chapter IX of Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020, it stated.

The Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the leasing contract will be processed within six months after the RFI is issued and contract conclusion in accordance with the timelines mentioned in DAP 2020, the RFI stated. The Request For Proposal is expected by mid-October, a defence source said adding they are also trying to speed up the delivery timeline sooner than the two years mentioned in the RFI. While the lease period stated is five years, it is likely to go up to 10 years, officials said.

While the Army Aviation Corps is in the process of a major augmentation of its firepower with the induction of the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) underway and Apache attack helicopters from 2024 onwards, its light helicopter fleet has been in dire need of replacement. The Army Aviation currently operates around 190 Cheetah, Chetak and Cheetal helicopters, with five of them, the oldest, being over 50 years old. Of the 190 Cheetahs and Chetaks in service, around 134 helicopters or over 70% of them are over 30 years old, as reported by The Hindu earlier. Of the 246 Cheetahs we now have 190 flying and at any time around 25 of them are at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for maintenance, one official said. “So there is a deficiency of 37% in this segment.”

The proposed Ka-226T procurement from Russia has been stuck for several years now and is unlikely to materialise. “The indigenous Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) developed by HAL and cleared for induction is yet to qualify the auto-pilot without which it cannot be inducted”, the source cited above said adding it will also take time for sufficient numbers to come in.

There is a requirement of leasing 20 helicopters including ground-support equipment to operate from two bases, the RFI said. “Lessor shall also indicate the possibility of delivering all 20 helicopters within two years from the contract signing date.”

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The Army also operates around 145 indigenous Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH), 75 of which are the Rudra weaponised variants and another 25 ALH Mk-III are on order. The light helicopter fleet is the lifeline in transporting supplies and for evacuations in the high-altitude areas including the Siachen glacier and the commitments on the Northern borders have significantly gone up since the 2020 stand-off. In addition to the Army, the Navy and IAF too operate these helicopters. For instance, the IAF has around 120 Cheetah and Chetak and around 18 of the more recent Cheetals.

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