SOURCE: TUSHKAR SHIRODKAR / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG.
State-owned HAL Entering Naval Utility Helicopters Competition has come as a shocker for many in the Indian Navy under which 111 helicopters could be procured by Navy to meet requirements for ship-borne operations for search and rescue (SAR), special heliborne operations, armed patrol, sniper operations, and VVIP travel.
HAL is proposing to offer a navalised variant of the 5.5t ALH Dhruv MkIII helicopter, with both a folding rotor and tail boom but Indian Navy’s inventory already has 8 Dhruvs which are mostly based on land-based Naval air base and in past failed to be qualified for operations from the Naval warships due to technical challenges which HAL has failed to resolve since 2003.
One of the main issues with Naval ALH Dhruv has been automatic foldable blades system without weight penalties while HAL in past demonstrated manual Segmented blades folding system but Navy wanted an automatic foldable blades system. The second major issue with older Naval ALH Dhruv was that due inherent design characteristics of the ALH, storage in small space was also a constraint due to which Naval ALH Dhruv order never went beyond 8 and were limited to operations from Land-based Naval facilities.
In 2018, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) said it has found a solution to the problem faced by the Navy, Due to hangar space constraints, it was difficult for the Navy to accommodate Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruvs, which aid in the search and rescue missions. HAL has addressed the issue by developing a folding section for the tail rotor so that it doesn’t take much space.
HAL has claimed that with a folding section for the tail rotor and automatic foldable blades system for the main rotor it is ready to meet Navy’s requirements for the 111 Helicopters but issues raised by the Navy has been that this system promised are only in the drawing boards and HAL has not developed any prototype with folding section for the tail rotor and automatic foldable blades system for the main rotor yet and one showcased at much fanfare at the defense exhibition was on a non-flying airframe.
Navy believes that demonstration of both of these key technologies might take up years and its Helicopter fleet will only shrink in future due to retirements of older Helicopter fleets hitting its operational readiness. HAL had promised and failed to deliver in past and Navy has the right to have doubts about HAL claims this time too unless HAL demonstrates this technology and make them available for trials in a short span of time to be seen as a serious contender in the competition.