IAF combat and heavy-lift chopper trials to begin by July

Philadephia, May 30 (Calcutta Tube) The Indian Air Force (IAF) seems set for trials of new combat and heavy lift helicopters this summer, possibly from June or July, as Boeing gets ready to field its latest versions of AH 64D Apache and Chinook CH-47F helicopters.

So confident is Boeing that its top executives say the company is looking forward to be the first in the trials so as to set benchmarks that others in the competition cannot possibly match.

The US spends so much on Research & Development (R&D) that ‘our products are unbeatable in hi-tech and precision engagement’, Dean Millsap, Regional Director, Asia Pacific for Boeing Rotorcraft Systems told India Strategic (www.indiastrategic.in) defence magazine.

The heavy lift Chinook, for instance, is the only helicopter that can land on water in an emergency, and also operate just above the water level to land or evacuate troops or people in a natural disaster situation.

IAF is looking for 22 Attack and 15 Heavy Lift helicopters as replacement for its Soviet vintage Mi 35 Attack and Mi 26 Heavy Lift machines which have served well but are too old now either to carry on or bear the burden of modern technology. The RfP for the two new aircraft was issued last year and besides Boeing, Russia’s Rosoboronexport has offered newer versions of Mi 35 and Mi 26.

Italy’s Finmeccanica, which owns AgustaWestland now, has offered the Mangusta attack helicopter, currently in service with the Italian Army. AgustaWestland has already won the IAF’s order for 12 VIP helicopters.

As in case of the combat jets for the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCAs), trials for which have just been over, field trials for both the new helicopters would be held in hot and humid weather in the deserts of Rajasthan and the heights of the Himalayas, Jaisalmer and Leh included.

The Indian Army and Air Force are already holding trials for the utility helicopters in these regions, which are required in large numbers from imported and indigenous production kits. There is no Transfer of Technology (ToT) clause though for manufacturing the Attack and Heavy Lift helicopters in India.

Notably, IAF’s Mi 35s have been upgraded over the last few years with Israeli night-fighting devices, but the airframes are too old for any more technology insertions. IAF had acquired half a dozen Mi 26 choppers for ferrying supplies to the Himalayas but hardly a couple of them are now able to fly, one problem being the lack of spares as its manufacturing facilities have closed down after the disintegration of the Soviet Union 20 years back.

Mi 26 is a huge machine though, equivalent to an An-12 aircraft that the IAF once used to fly.

But Millsap says: ‘No helicopter can match the stability of the Chinook, whose contra-rotating twin-rotors withstand rough weather in land, mountains and sea.’

In Afghanistan, where the US and NATO forces are fighting the Al Qaida and Taliban terrorists, Chinooks maintain a steady supply to the troops while the Apaches give them cover if required in a battlezone.

Adds Vivek Lall, vice president and India country head for Boeing Defense and Space (BDS): ‘The Apache will be a capable and lethal defender of India’s troops and assets, while the Chinook will answer many of the Indian military and humanitarian requirements.’

While Millsap briefed a visiting Indian media group, invited by Boeing, on the capabilities of the AH 64D Block III, which is still under development, other company executives, Jack Dougherty and Mark Bellow, highlighted the capabilities of the Chinook with graphic footage from the troubled Afghan mountains.

The first Block III Apache would be delivered to the US Army in 2011 and to the IAF within three years or less of the signing of an agreement, Boeing officials said.

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