Govt approves Rs 21,738-cr naval helicopter purchase

The defence ministry will now start shortlisting suitable private Indian firms as the designated strategic partners for helicopter manufacture.
The procurement of 111 “naval utility helicopters” (NUH) is the first acquisition to have been cleared by the defence ministry under its new “strategic partner” (SP) model, which seeks to bring the private sector into defence manufacturing.

On Monday, the ministry’s apex procurement body, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, accorded the NUH procurement “acceptance of necessity” (AoN) for an estimated Rs 21,738 crore.

According to this “Make in India” sanction, the first 16 helicopters will be supplied by the selected “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM) fully built, while the remaining 95 will be built in India by the selected SP, with transfer of technology (ToT) from the OEM.

With the AoN accorded, the defence ministry will now start shortlisting suitable private Indian firms as the designated SPs for helicopter manufacture as well as shortlisting foreign OEMs. It is understood that at least two Indian SPs will be chosen.

This will involve identifying Indian firms that meet the criteria issued by the defence ministry in June in the SP policy. Separate criteria, mainly relating to the capabilities of the helicopter on offer, will govern the selection of OEMs. Thereafter, SPs will tie up partnerships with OEMs of their choice and submit technical and commercial bids. To zero in on prospective vendors, the navy sent out Requests for Information (RFIs) in August. According to industry sources, there are likely to be just two candidate OEMs for the sub-5 tonne class NUH — Bell Helicopters and Airbus Helicopters.

In another clearance of prime operational importance to the navy, the DAC has cleared the procurement of nine “advanced towed array sonar” (ATAS) for warships to be able to detect enemy submarines.

The procurement, which is estimated to be worth Rs 2,000 crore, involves building the ATAS in Bharat Electronic Ltd (BEL), under ToT from German firm, Atlas Elektronik.

In November 2014, Atlas Elektronik won a contract to supply six ready-built ATAS for three Delhi-class destroyers and three Talwar-class frigates. The navy wants standardised sonar across all its warships.

The nine ATAS systems are intended for the navy’s three Kolkata-class destroyers; three Shivalik-class frigates, and three Teg-class Russian-origin frigates. The navy will fit ATAS externally onto the rear of these warships, which have been built with an empty compartment at the rear.

ATAS is considered an indispensable anti-submarine capability for warships operating in Indian waters, where a particularly sharp temperature gradient bends sonar waves through refraction, with the returning signal often getting lost.

ATAS overcomes the temperature gradient, since it is towed by a cable that extends deep below the surface, into the cooler layers where submarines lurk. With the sensors themselves in the colder water layers, there is no “temperature differential”. Even the faintest return signal from a submarine is detected.

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