India to buy Russian helicopters in major deal

Ka-226T. Source: Russian helicopters

Ka-226T. Source: Russian helicopters

India’s defence acquisition committee has cleared the way for the purchase of almost 200 Russian Ka-226T ‘Kamov’ helicopters, signalling a return of the robust Russia-India defence collaboration.

The Indian defence acquisition committee (DAC) on Wednesday cleared the purchase of almost 200 Russian Ka-226T ‘Kamov’ helicopters produced by JSC. The Russian helicopter was found more suitable than its nearest competitor from Airbus Helicopters, RIA Novosti reported.

Earlier, in December 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that in accordance with the relevant agreement with Russia, India would be producing Mi-17 and Ka-226T helicopters in India, possibly up to 400 ‘Kamov’ helicopters annually. This would be part of the Indian government’s ambitious ‘Make in India’ programme, opened up to the defence sector.

Rogozin said that initially, when India announced a tender for helicopters of this kind, the main competitor to the Russian helicopter was the ‘Eurocopter’. But the Ka-226T helicopter’s unique characteristics and particular Indian requirements forced the Indian defence ministry to cancel the tender and decide to produce the Russian copters in India.

The head of JSC ‘Russian Helicopters’, Alexandr Mikheyev, said on February 19 that his company had offered to set up production facilities for the Ka-226T in India, with full technology transfer. India’s DAC went ahead to accept the offer.

The Ka-226T is a multipurpose helicopter with coaxial rotors and two Arrius 2G1 turboshaft engines by the French Turbomeca. Two versions have been developed: patrol helicopters and those for medical use. This helicopter has the necessary headroom to maneuver even with one engine running.

India issued a tender for supply of 197 helicopters of foreign origin in 2009. The competition narrowed down to two contenders - JSC ‘Kamov’ with Ka-226T and the Airbus ‘Eurocopter’ AS550 C3 Fennec. The tender's value was around $600 million.

This large contract has revitalised the India-Russia defence partnership which had lost some traction after Russia lost a large tender for the supply of military transport aircraft; with India opting to buy six American C-130 Super Hercules over the Russian IL-76.

Andrey Frolov, chief editor of ‘Arms Export’ magazine, said India’s decision to purchase the ‘Kamov’ helicopters a landmark event. He noted that India is purchasing a small series product. “Although Ka-226 has been in production for about 10 years, it is actually being purchased by the piece. These helicopters have not had export success. Therefore, India is taking some risk. But, given the fact that the Indians are purchasing the modification with the French engine (there is also a modification with an English engine), and Russia has agreed for transfer technology, this deal is interesting from any point of view,” Frolov said.

Russia has now also entered into discussions to supply fighter jets to India after New Delhi scrapped an agreement for 126 multi-role fighter Rafale jets signed, signed with France in 2010. According to media reports, the deal got stuck when Dassault kept raising prices and creating problems.

On April 10, during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to France, India announced that it would purchase 36 Rafale fighters jets “off the shelf” from Dassault on a government to government deal.

The Indian Air Force requires more fighter jets so, on April 30, the Russian corporation ‘Irkut’ declared its readiness to supply to India the Su-30MKI with the same conditions as the tender to supply French Rafales.

“Technology transfer inevitable”

Vadim B. Kozyulin, Conventional Arms Program Director at PIR-Centre, said that in the current situation, the large contract for the purchase of helicopters will provide an economic boost.

“There haven't been such purchases for a long time. This can be called a landmark event for the Russian defence industry, particularly in the context of the crisis. This will be a major boost for our helicopter industry,” Kozyulin said.

He recalled that some years ago, analysts began to speak about the crisis in Russian-Indian military cooperation, saying that Moscow had nothing to offer, and New Delhi was beginning to focus more on Western models.

“But this case breaks such insinuations down. Russia is a major producer of arms and particularly helicopters, the field where we have no competitors in terms of efficiency and quality”, he said.

Kozyulin called the transfer of technologies for the production of helicopters to India “a sensitive issue.”

“India's legislation is written in a way that technology transfer is inevitable. So Russia has to go for it. In the field of helicopter production Russia is still at the stage where we can expect to take a big step forward. Technologies that will be transferred will help India, but Russia will also reach the next stage soon”, he predicted.

First published in Russian in Vzglyad newspaper.

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