Jan 8, 2014
India Could Scrap Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) Deal
There are indications that the 197 light-utility helicopters (LUH) procurement deal may be scrapped, leaving the army without an option to replace its ageing fleet of Cheetah and Chetak choppers. Cancellation of the deal seems imminent.
Cheetah and Chetak choppers are the lifeline to troops deployed in high-altitude posts in North Kashmir, Siachen, Ladakh and the Northeast. But the Cheetahs and Chetaks have aged, waiting to replaced.
Everyone thought that the LUH would be the replacement. But the buzz is the defence ministry might scrap the deal. More so, after the CBI registered a case against a brigadier and another officer on Saturday for allegedly attempting to favour one of the companies wanting to clinch the deal. Cheetah and Chetak choppers are “death traps”. As many as 12 pilots have died in Cheetah crashes in the last five years.
If army aviation sources are to be believed, these vintage helicopters, which were purchased from France and inducted into the Indian army in 1971, have lived beyond their threshold by more than 12 to 15 years.
According to defence ministry sources, the procurement process is heading for trouble once again after the acquisition of 197 helicopters was cancelled in December 2007 after having been finalised. In 2008, the government issued fresh tenders in this regard.
If the government cancels the deal once again, it is going to be a major setback for the preparedness of the army, which is making all efforts to match China’s capabilities on the eastern front.
The army has been raising the issue of replacing obsolete machines since 2003. In 2012, army headquarters wrote a letter to defence minister AK Antony’s office in which it highlighted that obsolescence-related issues such as component failures, low reliability, accidents and increased structural failures were dogging the fleet. The army claimed that Cheetah and Chetak helicopters had virtually become death traps.
In March 2007, defence minister told Parliament that the ageing Cheetah fleet would be replaced. There are about 250 Cheetahs and Chetak helicopters in service in the army aviation corps. The airframe life of the light-utility helicopter is about 4,500 hours, but most Cheetahs with the army have logged over 6,000 flying hours. The engine life of the chopper is 1,750 hours and most have gone past that too.