New Delhi: The Indian Navy remains adamant against the inclusion of government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in the $3 billion (Rs 22,500 crore approximately) deal for Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), asserting that the company’s product do not meet the force’s requirements.
This had been conveyed to the defence ministry by the Navy time and again, sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint.
“HAL’s NUH is not for us. The blade folding takes excessive time and the size of the folded bladed is bigger than what is required. In times of rescue missions or quick surveillance, the time taken on the blades is a disability,” a Navy source said.
ThePrint had on 30 May reported that the project could become the first challenge for the Narendra Modi-led government under its new ‘atma nirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India)’ initiative in the defence sector.
The NUH is being pursued under a strategic partnership model focused on the Indian private industry meeting manufacturing needs through tie-ups with foreign vendors.
“The entire aim of the strategic partnership is to help the creation of a defence hub in the country from the private sector. NUH programme is like the Maruti car programme which will lead to creation of a private helicopter manufacturing and servicing ecosystem,” the Navy source quoted above said.
Another source said that an assessment carried out by the Navy has found that ALHs does not meet the force’s requirements.
Private players also objected to HAL’s possible inclusion
The Navy has been desperate to replace its Chetak of 1960s vintage with NUH. The NUHs are to be utilised for multiple roles, including search and rescue, casualty evacuation and low-intensity maritime operations, besides torpedo drops.
The Navy had received eight responses to the expression of interest (EOI) issued in February last year, as part of its plan to purchase 111 helicopters for Rs 21,738 crore.
HAL had submitted two bids — one by itself and another through a joint venture with Russian Helicopters to produce the Kamov chopper.
It is to note that private players have also objected to the possible inclusion of HAL in the NUH programme in May last year.
Private firms that have responded to the request for information (RFI) are Mahindra Defence Systems, Tata Aerospace, Reliance, Adani, Bharat Forge and Coimbatore-based Lakshmi Machine Works.
As part of a re-evaluation in May this year, the defence ministry had asked the contenders about the export potential of the NUH programme and also raised the prospect of HAL being given a chance to be a part of it.
The private sector players had then written back to the ministry saying HAL should be kept out.
Speaking to ThePrint in May, Wing Commander (retd) Unni Pillai, who is the executive director (CTP-RW) at HAL, had said, “There are two bolts there. You remove one and it can be folded. It takes about six minutes to fold on the LUH (Light Utility Helicopter). On the ALH, we are planning to incorporate the same which we would be able to do at the same time.”
However, Navy officials have said the time taken is too long and such bolts are risky.