Navy not keen on buying Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters

A file photo of Dhruv helicopters.

A file photo of Dhruv helicopters.  

Ravi Sharma

It initially had plans to buy 60 of these helicopters from the HAL

The Navy has so far accepted just eight Dhruvs

Naval officials say HAL has not met their requirements

BANGALORE: The Navy which in 2002 indicated plans to buy 60 of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) designed and developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is now winding up its ALH Naval Project Office (NPO) at HAL.

The winding up of the NPO, a task which has almost been completed, is likely to be the proverbial last nail in the HAL’s ALH Naval variant project. The Navy has so far accepted just eight Dhruvs for an air squadron at Kochi and even these are still awaiting their final operational clearance.

To have been the main workhorse of the Navy and deployed with the surface fleets, including on the Godavari class of Russian built frigates, the 5.5-tonne Dhruv was to be used for multi-purpose roles including rescue and relief operations, naval exercises and reconnaissance missions, as well as – once it was weaponised – for anti-submarine warfare roles.

But according to senior naval officials, besides issues over poor fleet serviceability, HAL has not been able to meet the naval staff qualitative requirements for the ALH. The two main sticking points are the Navy’s requirement for automatic foldable blades with the minimum folded blade width (distance across the helicopter after the blades are folded so that it can be parked in the ship’s hangar) being much below 5 meters and a ‘time on task’ or ‘radius of action’ of two hours and 20 minutes. HAL have been able to achieve only 5.1 m foldable width and a considerably less ‘time on task’ capability.

Officials from HAL explained that in a bid to overcome the folded blade width problem, they had suggested that the Navy place three blades in the aft and one in the forward position, making a hole in the hangar wall so that one of the blades could stick out, and building a traversing rail system for removing the blades during storage. But this has not been accepted by the Navy who want a helicopter with an automatic blade folding system.

With regard to the short ‘time on task’ capability of the Dhruv during anti-submarine operations like sonar dunking, the officials have suggested that the Navy utilise the “searcher and hunter” concept, where one helicopter (sans any armament) identifies a target, while a second armed helicopter takes on an attack role.

The Navy has already floated a request for information (RFI) to a number of foreign vendors looking for a helicopter that will fill the void left by the Dhruv. The to-be-chosen helicopter will replace some of the Sea Kings, HAL-built Chetaks and possibly even the Russian Kamov-25s. HAL has also received the RFI which, however, does not specify the number of helicopters or the weight class.

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