Indian aerospace giant Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will seek a foreign partner for its indigenous Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) programme and is likely to announce its selection sometime in 2009. Sources suggest that EADS division Eurocopter will most likely be the preferred partner.
State-owned HAL has been asked to design, develop and produce 187 helicopters for India's army and air force. This order, sanctioned in June this year, shall be in addition to the 197 LUHs that India will buy directly from a foreign supplier. An international tender has already been issued for this order.
The Indian defence ministry scaled down its global tender for the purchase of light helicopters from 384 to 197 in June this year, with the remaining 187 to be built by HAL.
It is expected that HAL will begin delivery of the indigenous aircraft only around 2015.
"We hope to begin the initial work on the light utility helicopter next year. It would take around five years to completely design and develop a new helicopter, and an experienced Western partner would help in every stage," a HAL official has been quoted as saying.
HAL sources also suggest that Eurocopter's AS550 Fennec will very likely be selected as the candidate for the 197-helicopter tender. They say the model had come very close to winning an earlier tender, which was cancelled last December after US firm Bell Helicopter complained that the EADS subsidiary had been unfairly favoured in the selection process.
Bell subsequently withdrew from the tender altogether, citing its inability to meet offset requirements.
"During the earlier tender, HAL was in talks with Eurocopter as it was required to licence-produce 137 of the helicopters. That fell through after the tender was cancelled, but the negotiations with Eurocopter went very well and we liked what they offered us. Hopefully, that can continue if Eurocopter comes on board as a partner for the indigenous LUH programme," said the HAL official.
The merged firm of Eurocopter and HAL have a history of working together on major helicopter programmes that go long back in time. HAL has licence-produced several hundred Aerospatiale SA315B Lamas and SA316B Alouettes as the Cheetah and Chetak.
It is this ageing fleet of helicopters that are now being sought to be replaced.
India requires a smaller single-engine helicopter in the 2.5-3 tonne category.
The LUH programme will be separate from the ongoing Dhruv advanced light helicopter and light combat helicopter programmes.