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India in talks with Sri Lanka over advanced light helicopters

(UDHAYAM, NEW DELHI) – As part of efforts to enhance defence cooperation and boost exports with friendly countries, India is in discussions with Sri Lanka and several Southeast Asian nations for the supply of Dhruv, the indigenously developed advanced light helicopter (ALH).

Supplying defence equipment and providing assistance in setting up domestic manufacturing capability have become the new normal in India’s defence cooperation with regional countries.

“There are queries … There is talk with Vietnam, Myanmar and Sri Lanka for ALH,” T. Suvarna Raju, Chief Managing Director of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), told The Hindu.

Another official said discussions with Indonesia were progressing well. Officials from India were expected to visit Jakarta in April.

This time, India is putting specific emphasis on maintenance and training in view of its experience of Dhruv sales to Ecuador, which got embroiled in legal issues.

Amid much fanfare in 2009, India bagged a deal to supply seven of these helicopters to Ecuador worth $45.2 million after defeating several global platforms. However, the euphoria was short-lived as four of them crashed. In October 2015, Ecuador unilaterally terminated the contract and in 2016, put the three helicopters on sale. Following this, HAL had moved a local court there. Of the four crashes, two had been attributed to pilot error and one to mechanical failure.

Dhruv, designed and developed by the HAL, is powered by the Shakti engine jointly developed by it and Turbomeca of France. Over 200 helicopters are in service with the Indian military.

The three Services have constantly complained about lack of spares and support for the fleet. The situation has slightly improved in recent times.

“We have started mini maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities at forward bases where we man them and stock spares and line replaceable units for use. We do a clean exchange when required,” Mr. Raju said. These attempts to stock the spares and supply them as quickly as possible has brought serviceability to “more than 65% to 70%”, he said.

To increase the delivery rate, the HAL recently set up a second assembly line in Kanpur, which is expected to produce 12 helicopters a year.

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