Mumbai: In a boost to indigenous aircraft production the defence ministry, has scaled down its global tender for the purchase of light helicopters from 384 to 197, with the remaining 187 to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
The defence acquisition council overruled the objections from the Army and the Air Force brass who were expecting an early acquisition of the 3.5-tonnage class helicopters.
This will be the first venture of HAL, which has fixed an all time high sales target of Rs10,000 crore in the current financial year, to make light helicopters.
HAL recorded sales of Rs8,350 crore last year, which was 50 per cent of all defence public sector undertakings, and also had an export earning to the tune of Rs325 crore.
The defence ministry will provide Rs435 crore as development fund for the project. HAL would also be responsible for maintenance of the 197 helicopters, which most probably would be bought off the shelf.
The move would nearly halve the original $4 billion helicopter order.
The defence ministry plans to enter the global market with the purchase of 22 attack helicopters, 200 medium-lift helicopters and 15 to 20 heavylift helicopters. The Navy also wants to acquire six medium-range multi-role reconnaissance aircraft to boost its surveillance along the vulnerable coastline.
The decision to allow HAL manufacture helicopters indigenously is in line with the recent thinking in defence circles. Defence minister A K Antony had said that the government will strengthen the country's own research and development organisations as some western countries are unwilling to part with strategic defence technologies.
HAL has already drawn up a major expansion plan and is likely to increase its helicopter designers and engineering workforce from the existing 850 to more than 2,500 in the next four years.
Antony had also told a parliamentary panel a few days ago that the defence technologies being "offered to India were mostly previous generation tactical systems and that too on unacceptable terms and conditions".