The Defence Acquisition Council, the top decision-making body of the defence ministry, has approved a proposal to acquire 111 multi-utility helicopters for the Indian Navy, at cost of Rs21,738 crore, in a move to enhance the country's naval strike capability.
The long-pending proposal was cleared at a meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday. The DAC accorded approval for what is technically termed as an ''acceptance of necessity''.
The helicopters will be procured under the strategic partnership model, under which foreign firms will collaborate with Indian firms and help enhance indigenous military industrial manufacturing capabilities.
The DAC also cleared procurement of nine sonar systems at a cost of Rs450 crore that will help in detection of submarines. This will also be acquired under the strategic partnership model.
The copters, which will be based on decks of sea-going ships, will be capable of carrying out routine operations like search and rescue, medical evacuation and communication as well.
The government will now start the process of identifying a foreign helicopter maker and an Indian defence firm for a joint venture for the project.
Procurement of these copters that are equipped with specialised radars, sensors and torpedoes to track and hunt submarines, has been necessitated by a surge in the number of Chinese submarines frequenting the Indian Ocean.
These submarines, with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, carry sea-dunking sonars for detecting a submarine and is considered potent to hit underwater submarines. The over-flying copters cannot be targeted by a submarine.
Of the 111 copters, termed the Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), 16 will be taken in a flyaway condition and the remaining will be built under the ''Make in India'' initiative.
The Navy, in its global request for information (RFI) - seen as first step towards procuring the equipment - made it clear that it wants copters with lightweight anti-submarine torpedo along with radar and sensor package required for target detection of submarines.
Currently, the Navy uses the Sea King Mk42B and the Kamov-28 copters in an ASW role. Both are of the 1980s vintage design and are now being upgraded. There are about 20 such copters.
Marine helicopters are rugged-ized versions of helicopters used by land or air forces. Sea salinity necessitates a different paint coating while equipment, avionics and radars are totally different.
In June this year, the US Department of Defence had, in its report ''Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2017'', said: ''These submarine patrols demonstrate the PLAN's
Meanwhile, China has been expanding its access to logistics in the Indian Ocean through submarine patrols, demonstrating the PLAN's emerging capability both to protect China's sea lanes of communication and to increase China's power projection into the Indian Ocean.
Beijing also recently opened a military base in Djibouti on the North-Eastern coast of Africa and is slated to establish additional hubs over the next decade.
Last year, China signed a pact with Pakistan for the sale of eight submarines. The first four will be built in China, with the remaining four in Pakistan.