By Gulshan Luthra
New Delhi: US Boeing’s Chinook CH 47F helicopter is set to win the Indian Air Force’s helicopter tender, defeating the Russian Mi-26 in the open international tender by a decent margin.
The tender was opened recently in the presence of representatives of both the companies, and according to reliable sources, the quote by the US company was “surprisingly much lower” in both the initial and lifecycle costs.
Russia – and the erstwhile Soviet Union – has been the biggest supplier of aircraft and defence equipment to India, but all these so far have been acquired on the basis of government-to-government agreements.
With the loss of the heavy-lift tender, Russia has lost both the competitive tenders in India in which it participated, the other being that of combat helicopters. In that, Russia withdrew its Mi-28, and Boeing’s Apache AH 64D won on both technical and financial merit. Earlier, the Russian Mig 35 lost against the French Rafale in the six-corner combat jet competition on technical grounds for 126 combat jets for the IAF.
The IAF had issued tenders, officially called request for proposals (RfPs), after evaluating globally available machines for 22 combat and 15 heavy-lift helicopters.
The result for the combat helicopters was announced earlier, and for the heavy-lift, it should be officially announced within a few days. But the sources confirmed that the Chinook is L-1, or the lowest in acquisition and maintenance costs in the official jargon.
Notably, the IAF has been using the Mi-26 for a quarter century now, and there appeared to be a leaning towards this machine because of familiarity and the fact that it can carry more weight than the Chinook. But Russia does not make this helicopter any more, and even with refurbished machines perhaps, its projected costs are higher.
The Chinook is a much more versatile machine, and the only helicopter in the world that can also float on water for launching and recovering inflatable boats with commandoes. In terms of operational capability, while the Mi-26 can carry more weight, it is nowhere near the American machine.
In fact, in the Himalayan heights, the Mi-26 has sometimes had problems in taking off and small runways had to be built to give it some lift.
According to Lt.Gen. (retd.) B.S. Pawar, an expert on rotorcraft, the newer version of the Chinook, which India will get from the US, is a proven machine and perhaps the best in comparison to other helicopters. “It is versatile and has proved as a great workhorse both in Afghan and Iraq operations in heavy logistic roles.”
“Chinook will be useful not only in ferrying under-slung artillery guns and jeeps but also be useful for integrated day and night commando operations for which it is well-equipped,” Lt. Gen. Pawar observed.