JVs with Russia for 200 helicopters, lakhs of rifles stuck over cost, content

A total of 6.7 lakh AK-203 rifles, 200 Ka-226T helicopters were to be made

Ka-226T A Ka-226T | Russian Helicopters

Two key joint ventures between India and Russia are stuck in bottlenecks. The first venture was a partnership between Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Kalashnikov to manufacture AK 203 assault rifles for the armed forces. And the second project is a joint venture between HAL and Russian Helicopters for 200 Kamov Ka-226T helicopters.

The production of AK 203 rifles is stuck due to cost issues, while the Kamov Ka-226T deal is stuck due to differences over transfer of technology and indigenous content.

A total of 6.7 lakh AK 203 rifles were to be manufactured in a factory at Korwa in Uttar Pradesh in collaboration with OFB to meet long-pending demands of the armed forces. It is notable that the Indian Army has been struggling to replace its INSAS rifles for the last two decades. During his inaugural remarks in DefExpo on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned the production facility for AK 203 rifles.

The deal for Kamov Ka-226T helicopters was announced first in December 2014 and is the first major 'Make in India' project. Though an inter-government agreement was inked in October 2016, the Ka-226T deal is in limbo for last four years. A production facility has also been set up in Tumakuru, about 150km from Bengaluru. But the joint venture is yet to take off because the ministry of defence was not convinced with the indigenous content in the helicopter.

The twin-engined Kamov Ka-226T will replace the single-engine Cheetah/Chetak. The Indian Army is in desperate need for light utility helicopters—a lifeline for soldiers posted at the world’s highest battlefield, the inhospitable Siachen Glacier in the Himalayas. The Indian Army's efforts to have these light utility helicopters went through three cancellations, with the latest being in 2014.

The Army is depending on its vintage helicopter fleet of Cheetah/Chetak aircraft and they have lived way beyond the threshold by more than 12-15 years: The aircraft were purchased from France and inducted into the Indian Army in 1971, well over 40 years ago.

The original tender on the helicopter deal issued by the MoD quoted 70 per cent locally made equipment. But the Russian side had not agreed to the clause. This fact is considered to be one of the reasons for holding back formalisation of the joint venture between Russian Helicopters and HAL, along with its price.

In December 2014, after months of deliberation, India and Russia agreed to manufacture the Ka-226T helicopter in India. In the contract for 200 helicopters, 60 will come in fly-away condition from Russia and remaining 140 would be built in India.

"MoD sought clarity on the indigenous content in the helicopter. Now, we have submitted fresh details regarding it. We are expecting the issue to be resolved soon,” said Nakkady Madayi Shrinat, CEO of Indo-Russian Helicopters Limited, the joint venture.

According to the new arrangement, the indigenous content has gone down from the original tender and comes to around 40 per cent.

Kamov Ka-226T has 74 per cent Russian content and 26 per cent European equipment including its engine, which is produced by a French company. In the four-phase production programme in India, maximum indigenous content goes up to 62 per cent in last phase of 50 helicopters. A total of 35 helicopters will be produced in first phase with only 3.3 per cent local components and 25 choppers in second phase with 15 per cent indigenous content. In third phase, 30 helicopters will be manufactured with 35 per cent indigenous content.

“The contract is yet to be inked. First helicopter will be delivered in 36 months of signing of deal. At the moment, we are working out the cost and other technological issues," Shrinath said at the DefExpo in Lucknow on Thursday.

The Army, Indian Air Force, Navy and the Coast Guard presently have a fleet of around 430 Cheetah/Chetak helicopters, which are based on the 1950s’ designed Alouette Aérospatiale 315B Lama of France.

Officials claim that the airframe life of a light utility helicopter is about 4,500 hours, but most of the Cheetahs that the Army has have logged over 6,000 flying hours. The engine life of the chopper is 1,750 hours and most of the helicopters in service have gone past that too.