The Indian Navy to Modernize Its Helos: Negotiating Purchase of Sikrosky S-70Bs


2015-12-09 By Gulshan Luthra

Dateline New Delhi

Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources told India Strategic that although the helicopters were selected in December 2014, there were some issues over cost escalations due to the delay in the procurement process, and the US company’s insistence that it could not hold the prices it had offered in 2008.

Recently however, Sikorsky had relented and its team is due to be invited soon for an early conclusion of the price negotiations.

The subject is also likely to be on the agenda during Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s visit to Washington on December 9 and 10.

Notably, the Indian Navy had invited bids in 2008 from Sikorsky for S-70B and European NH Industries (NHI) for NH 90.

There was some hesitation in opening the latter’s bid, as Finmeccanica, which got embroiled in controversy over the acquisition of VVIP helicopters for the Indian Air Force (IAF), is a major partner in this European consortium.

Sikorsky had a walkover accordingly, but it asked for revision in prices as the selection process had taken more than twice the stipulated timelines, and the delivery in any case, has to be three years after the price negotiations conclude and a contract is signed.

That is roughly 10 years after its offer was submitted.

Somehow, MoD repeatedly sought extensions of Sikorsky’s bid, delaying the acquisition process timelines from less than three years to six.

Nonetheless, it said there was no provision for cost escalation during the selection and negotiation process.

Meanwhile, in another development, Sikorsky has been acquired by Lockheed Martin (LM) from United Technologies Corporation (UTC).

After the completion of the merger process early November, Sikorsky was shown for the first time as a Lockheed Martin company at the Dubai Airshow on November 8.

As for the current status in negotiations with the Indian Navy, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Robin Dhowan, when asked about the Seahawk Multi Role helicopters, replied that the process was now in an “advanced stage.”

Notably, the tender, or Request for Proposal (RfP) had sought 16 helicopters with an option for eight more.

But Admiral Dhowan had told India Strategic earlier that as the Navy was short of these machines, the deal could be all the 24 machines.

It may be recalled that the Navy had originally planned to acquire 54 Multi Role Helicopters, and 16 of these should have come in 2007 as replacement for the first lot of quarter century old Britain-supplied Westland Sea Kings. More were to follow progressively.

SR-70B in operation. Credit: Sikorsky
SR-70B in operation. Credit: Sikorsky

This has not happened, and the Sikorsky Seahawks are likely to start arriving from 2019, more than a decade late.

The Sikorsky deal is estimated to be around $1 billion-plus for 16 helicopters but there is no official word yet on prices from either side.

Weapons and sensors will be extra – possibly from other companies but Sikorsky will integrate them in accordance with the contract.

The weapon suite will have capability to deal with both underwater (ASuW or Anti Submarine Warfare) and ASW (Anti Surface – Ship – Warfare).

Among the suppliers for radars and weapons should be the US Raytheon and Telephonics as well as French Thales.

The power plants (two engines per machine) will be from GE.

Significantly, besides the case for MRH under which the Sikorsky S 70 has been selected, there is a second proposal under classification NMRH (Naval Multi Role Helicopter) for 123 machines to meet the pending and growing requirements of the Indian Navy.

The choice for that helicopter is yet to be finalized and the case for issuing an RfP is yet to be progressed at the MoD.

A third case which is also pending is to replace the 30 to 40 years old Chetaks with Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), which should be the same as for the Army and Air Force under the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) requirement.

Like most outdated systems, they were needed in yesteryears and it is to be seen how soon they can be produced in the country under the Government’s new Make in India policy.

It may be noted that the Indian Navy has substantial achievements to its credit for building ships indigenously, and with a three aircraft carrier policy, it will need several hundred helicopters for engaging threats and for ship to ship or ship to shore communications.

Republished by permission of our strategic partner India Strategic.

According to Sikrosky:

The S-70B SEAHAWK® weapon system provides international navies with a modern, battle-proven, in-use, low-risk Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) / Anti Surface Warfare (ASuW) mission solution. 

The S-70B model is a blend of field proven technology and state-of-the-art airframe, avionics and mission equipment making it, like its counterpart the MH-60R helicopter, the worlds most capable helicopter available today. 

The S-70B aircraft features an advanced, highly reliable Rockwell Collins glass cockpit. This system is integrated with a Rockwell Collins flight management system including a superior navigation and communication suite. 

The weapons management system has a flexible open architecture capable of integrating indigenous weapons and mission equipment. 

At Fallon, Second Line of Defense interviewed the helo operators involved in preparing to deploy.

The interview the role of helos seen from the standpoint of the large deck carrier strike group.