Navy-Dhruv Spat Escalates, Key Officers Throw It Back To HAL

A war of words over HAL’s Dhruv helicopter for the Indian Navy, sparked by an interview on Livefist this week, has escalated further. After an angry HAL took issue with a former Chief of Naval Staff calling them ‘lethargic, deadbeat’ for their lack of initiative in delivering a ship-worthy Dhruv helicopter, several veterans — both from HAL and the Indian Navy — have reacted.

Inputs from officers involved in key decisions around the naval Dhruv now add detail and texture to a program that has been described as a ‘sad story’ by Admiral Prakash in his interview to Livefist.

The most prominent among them is Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, former chief of the Western Naval Command & of the Integrated Defence Staff. Speaking to Livefist, he said, “It is with utter dismay that I see HAL’s response to Admiral Arun Prakash’s comment. It is surprising that HAL has retorted in this manner. With conviction I can say that HAL dragged the issue of NUH (naval utility helicopter) for a number of years after it failed to meet NASQRs (naval air staff qualitative requirements) in 2003. HAL must also be reminded that in 2011 they gave in writing that they (HAL) cannot meet the NASQRs of NUH, since they cannot manufacture auto blade folding mechanism.

Vice Admiral Sinha insists that it was HAL that signed off on MoD’s decision, therefore, to approve steps to identify an import option for the Indian Navy.

He says, “It was in the 2011 Services Capital Acquisition Procurement (SCAP) meeting I was part of that a decision was given on behalf of MoD that the Indian Navy can use the ‘Buy’ option for NUH. I was chief of the IDS during that period and part of deliberation. There was no choice but to ask the navy to go ahead with the ‘Buy’ option. The requirement at that time was lesser than what it is now because of delays and helicopters finishing with technical life. Many ships have been commissioned without helicopters since then. It is integral part of a warship. HAL may like to go through their files before making lose statements against a former Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee and CNS who has supported indigenisation to the hilt.

The 2011 SCAP meeting that the officer refers to is significant, since it is basically the Indian Navy’s documented proof that HAL had green-lit plans to import helicopters, since HAL had assessed itself to be incapable of delivering a compliant helicopter. In the best traditions of Indian bureaucracy, the SCAP comprises two committees — the SCAPCC (categorisation committee) and SCAPCHC (higher committee), both of which consist of representatives of all departments of MoD. The SCAPCC is populated by Joint Secretary-level officers and chaired by the by Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (Policy Planning and Force Development). The SCAPCHC was chaired at the time by Vice Admiral Sinha himself, and included the 3 service Vice Chiefs and Additional Secretary-level officers.

Only when a proposal of a service headquarters (in this case the Naval HQ) passes collective scrutiny of both committees is it put up to the apex Defence Acquisition Council ( DAC) chaired by the Defence Minister (AK Antony at the time) and includes all Secretary-level officers of the MoD , the Minister of State for Defence, service chiefs, DG Acquisition, DRDO chief and CISC (Vice Admiral Sinha at the time).

Livefist will update this story if we hear back officially from HAL or the company’s chairman at the time of these decisions in 2011, Ashok Nayak.

A senior HAL official, who asked not to be named, told Livefist, “Yes there have been some misgivings in this project regarding requirements for shipborne compatibility, but there is a view that such attacks will only alienate those working on such projects. We respect the views of the customer above all, and can understand the emotions that are involved, but the intention must be to fix what has gone wrong, however long it takes, and ensure we are on the same track.”

The top-level spat over the naval Dhruv has come into particular focus owing to the Indian Navy’s reputation as being traditionally more accepting and supportive of indigenous equipment than the other two services. In turn, that explains the intensity of the exchange.

Rear Admiral Sudhir Pillai, former Director Naval Air Staff at Naval Headquarters tweeted today in response to Livefist’s report, “The naval Dhruv development was requested in 2003/04 by Admiral Arun Prakash as CNS when he made a fervent plea for the development of an ALH Mk 2 to a high-powered team including HAL chairman (NR Mohanty at the time) after the ALH review revealed shortcomings. He offered Indian Navy support for funds. But was this ever pursued by HAL?

Captain Dalip Kumar Sharma, former Indian Navy spokesperson and now a military affairs commentator, tells Livefist, “HAL needs to be reminded that the officer (Admiral Arun Prakash) making comments is not only a retired Chief of Naval Staff, but a revered naval aviator who has played an extremely important role in shaping the navy’s air arm.”

Capt. Sharma continues, “The first naval qualitative requirements for the ALH were provided to HAL in 1978, including dimensional requirements for fitment in ship hangars. These were found stringent, and on request from HAL were modified by the Indian Navy. However, these also could not be met. How can a navy procure helicopters that cannot be stowed onboard ships? Certainly, the navy will not procure helicopters for operations from ashore.”

While the Livefist interview has amplified a bone of contention that has festered over the Dhruv helicopter for long, several officers have also sought to dismiss the notion that the Indian Navy has been dismissive of HAL’s helicopter.

In a detailed blog post today on the helicopter blade-folding debate — one of the points of divergence between HAL and the navy on the Dhruv — veteran helicopter pilot Commander K.P. Sanjeev Kumar writes, “It may be fashionable to say ‘navy was never interested in ALH’ or ‘navy loves imports’. But it is patently unfair & completely untrue… The Indian Navy has remained engaged with ALH & continues to do so even today. From an initial order of over a 100+ ALH, navy almost closed the project, only to revive it with orders for 16 more Mk-3 ALH in shore-based role… A world-class manufacturer should target global customers. This is unlikely to happen if domestic customers are unhappy. Being dismissive doesn’t help either.”

Capt. Sharma, who retired from the Indian Navy last year, says, “120 helicopters were sought from HAL in 1994, signed by Admiral Arun Prakash who was then the ACNS (Air). This was again echoed to HAL in 1996 by Vice Admiral Sushil Kumar, the then VCNS. Despite not meeting QRs, the navy accepted 8 ALHs commencing 2003 with the hope of HAL undertaking modifications to meet original naval requirements. It has been 17 years since and 900 modifications later, as indicated by the navy to HAL, that ALH still does not meet the requirements. The design and development cost to make ALH compliant to naval requirements was sought from the navy. Funding by navy to meet its QRs is akin to a car manufacturer asking the buyer for R&D cost to install a brake system on the car.

HAL’s Dhruv has been successfully inducted in significant numbers with the Indian Army, IAF and Indian Coast Guard, with units exported to countries that include Ecuador. The current tensions of the navy’s NUH stand in contrast to the creditable strides the helicopter itself has made in its standard and weaponised variants, though bureaucratic indecision has created significant hurdles there.

Livefist will have updates soon from HAL.

13 thoughts on “Navy-Dhruv Spat Escalates, Key Officers Throw It Back To HAL”

  1. Please note that the Dhruv’s bought for Naval, Army and Coast Guard requirement only fly from land. The NUH requirement is for Hptrs to be stowed on ships and fly from ships. This has not been achieved.

  2. The surface navy has done well in indigenisation. That is because they have their own design team. They also allow naval officers to join DRDO, BEL etc. They co-operate with DRDO and defence PSUs.

    The naval air arm has followed the practices of the air force. It is time for them to emulate the surface navy instead.

    1. There is huge gulf between surface naval requirements and exacting requirements that naval air must fulfil. It’s comparing apples and oranges.

  3. The army should also push back on the ordnance factories especially on poor QA leading to defective ammunition and deaths of soldiers due to this. Criminal cases should be filed and pursued.

    1. Govt. is not likely to favour filing of criminal cases. Maybe, the family of the victim can do so. But… legal battles can be costly and run even for a decade or more.

  4. HAL needs to focus on improving performance rather than trying to blame users. These are aspects which are processed as per clearly laid down multi layered processes and recorded. It’s foolish on the part of HAL to think that they can misquote facts. Yes, we all agree that maximum hand holding must be done to encourage Indian manufacturing. In the case of DPSU’s like HAL, this hand holding has been done for decades, even to the extent of making them complacent

  5. The fact of the matter is that a chopper that is expected to serve on board a naval vessel CANNOT be a copy of that produced for the air force/army – with just some modifications thrown in.
    In 2013, it was evident that HAL would not be able to fulfil NASQRs (naval air staff qualitative requirements), but they expect the Navy to accept and use whatever they produce.
    An efficient blade folding system is an absolute requirement for a naval helicopter. In lighter helicopters (5T or thereabouts), a manual folding system is fine.
    HAL could have modelled the NUH based on the Kamov Ka-29/Ka-31 in service with the Navy. (Of course, the Ka-31 is NOT a light helicopter, it is powered by twin Klimov turboshaft engines, with a maximum take-off weight of 12,200 kg.)

  6. Instead of concerning themselves with the NUH, they should focus on ironing out glitches of their prototype of the medium lift multi-role Mil Mi-17 military transport helicopter – the first batch of which entered service with the IAF in February 2012.
    Powered by twin Klimov TV3-117 turboshaft engines, the Mi-17 can hold 30 troops/12 stretchers or 4,000 kg of internal cargo. Alternately, 5,000 kg of external cargo it can be carried slung from the helicopter. HAL can try to improve on this. (Maximum take-off weight is 13,000 kg.)
    The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report tabled in Parliament this year pointed out that 56 of these helicopters would be left with less than two years of life after their upgradation as per the delayed delivery time-line. 
    There are at least 150 Mi-17 and Mi-8 helicopters in service currently.
    Acquiring the twin-engine Sikorsky UH-60 medium-lift helicopter is not an option – as it is far more expensive than the Mi-17, and lacks the tactical flexibility of its rear ramp.
    HAL has a JV with Russian Helicopters to make the Kamov Ka-226T utility helicopter – with maximum take-off weight is 3.5 tonnes and payload of up to 1 ton – in Tumkur, around 70 kms from Bengaluru.
    Inter-governmental agreement for the for production of KA-226T helicopters in India was signed in December 2015, BUT it still hasn’t got off the ground.
    There is no certainty as to when the ageing Cheetah and Chetak helicopters of the IAF – The bulk of which are over 40 years old, can be replaced with these newer ones.

  7. The Indian Navy has made it very clear: “HAL HELICOPTER IS NOT FOR US.”
    Asserting that HAL’s product does not meet their requirements, the Navy remains adamant against the inclusion of government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in the $3 billion (approx. ? 22,500 crore) deal for Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH).
    The “dog in the manger” attitude betrays petty self-interest. It is time for HAL to eschew their lackadaisical “one size fits all” outlook and focus on the tasks at hand – like a viable replacement for the ageing Cheetah and Chetak helicopters.

  8. Through a write up in the Deccan Herald of Oct. 11, 2020, Vijaya Kumar – former Executive Director, Rotary Wing Research and Design Centre and V. Sadagopan – former CEO, Helicopter Complex, HAL, tried to defend the indefensible. But that is understandable.
    Former integrated defence staff chief Vice Admiral Raman Puri (retd), who the department of defence production had appointed as consultant, had advised against inducting a foreign helicopter as NUH.
    His arguments: ? defence public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics is in a position to supply a naval version of its indigenous Dhruv advanced light helicopter; ? Para 23 of Chapter II of the Defence Procurement Policy of 2016 (DPP-2016), which states: ‘Preference will be given to indigenous design, development, and manufacture of defence equipment.
    Yes, Hindustan Aeronautics did supply an helicopter, which they categorised as ‘NUH’ – but it DID NOT conform to the Navy’s requirements as stated in the NASQRs (naval air staff qualitative requirements). The major bone of contention was and still is the chopper’s blade folding capability.While the Navy’s requirement is a specialised chopper that can be quickly deployed, HAL’s NUH just takes too much time to be deployed.
    In spite of their attempts since 2013, HAL having failed to do so, asked the Navy to make appropriate changes to the vessel hangars to accommodate their so called NUH. In their own interest – so that they could land a ? 21,738 crore (? 217.38 billion) project to build 111 naval utility helicopters??
    The Navy is desperate to replace its 1960s vintage Chetak with NUH, but what HAL is asking is too much of a compromise. It makes no sense for a navy to procure helicopters that CANNOT be stowed onboard ships.
    ?? DON’T FORGET: If we had decided to wait for the Gas Turbine Research Establishment’s Kaveri turbofan jet engine, it is quite possible that the LCA would still not have taken to the air. (The LCA Tejas’s baseline Mk-1 version entered service with the IAF in 2016 and we have 1 squadron in operation.)

  9. At the Chandipur test range, Odisha, HAL’s Rudra LCH (Light Combat Helicopter) successfully test-fired an air-to-air missile, destroying a fast-flying Banshee air target with a direct hit.
    This meant that the Army Aviation Corps would be able to deploy it at altitudes of 15,000 to 20,000 feet to provide fire support to soldiers, where the oxygen-depleted air prevents the men from carrying weaponry heavier than their personal rifles and light machine guns.
    LCH pilots would be able to fire the heat-seeking, short-range, fire-and-forget MBDA (formerly Matra BAE Dynamics) Mistral air-to-air missile, to shoot down enemy aircraft 7 kilometres away.
    Dhruv carries two other weapons – ?) a Nexter turrent cannon with effective range of 2,000m, mounted below the helicopter’s nose, which fires 750 rounds of 20-millimetre steel bullets per minute, that can even incapacitate light armoured vehicles; ?) stub wings on either side can be fitted with up to eight Helina (Helicopter-launched Nag) anti-tank guided missiles, four MBDA Mistral short-range air-to-air missiles or four 70-millimetre Thales rockets.
    Rudra is equipped with an advanced glass cockpit, forward looking infrared (FLIR) and helmet mounted sights (HMS), which provides the pilot with better situational awareness.
    Equipment for self-protection include the SAAB Integrated Defensive Aids Suite (IDAS), radar warning receiver, IR jammer, flare and chaff dispenser.
    Rudra ALH-WSI (weapon system integrated) – the first indigenous attack helicopter to be equipped with an Automatic Flight Control System, seems to have all it takes to be a formidable light attack helicopter.

  10. The 6 NUH manufacturer wannabes in the fray are Mahindra Defence Systems, Tata Aerospace, Reliance, Adani, Bharat Forge and Coimbatore-based Lakshmi Machine Works.
    The ‘atma nirbhar Bharat’ aspect will still be intact even if one of them make the Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) under the Strategic Partnership model.
    But if the ‘Reliance’ in the wannabe list is A-NIL Ambani company – Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL), they need to be kept out. After all, there are 5 others for consideration.
    It is unlikely to be Reliance Naval & Engineering Ltd. (RNEL), an A-NIL Ambani ADAG company with an outstanding debt of over ? 11,000 crore debt, which is now bankrupt. More importantly, the company HASN’T FULFILLED a 2011 naval order of ? 2,500 crore for 5 naval offshore patrol vessels (NPOVs), the delivery of which was to be completed in 5 years.
    Though RNEL failed to deliver even a single vessel in 5 years, in clear contravention of Chapter 6, Clause 12.1(a) of the Defence Procurement Manual 2009, which mandates the termination of a contract if “the supplier fails to honour any part of the contract including failure to deliver the contracted stores/render services in time”, the Indian Navy did not cancel the contract.
    In Dec. 2019, the govt after encashing all performance bank guarantees (PBG) given by the company in the patrol vessel contract – collectively worth ? 980 crore, issued a show-cause notice to RNEL asking why the order should not be cancelled forthwith. The contract was cancelled, but only in late September this year.
    Vis-a-vis the OEMs, Bell Helicopter’s Bell 429 and Sikorsky’s S-76 reportedly have certain non-compliance issues with respect to the Navy’s specific requirements. Leonardo is currently blacklisted. The Navy doesn’t seem to be too keen on the Kamov choppers – maybe to keep HAL out. This leaves the Airbus AS565 as the front-runner. In February 2016, Airbus Helicopters had promised to relocate the global production line for the medium-weight, multi-purpose, twin-engine AS565 Panther to India – if it is selected by the Indian Navy. The platform originally developed by French aerospace firm Aerospatiale in the early 1980s, has around 1,000 helicopters currently in service in over 72 countries and has logged up 5.8 million flight hours.
    Footnote: HAL had put on display its variant of NUH at the Aero India Expo in February 2019. However, sources at the Naval Headquarters pointed out that the helicopter did not have foldable blades – a basic requirement of naval helicopters, as they have to be stowed in the vessel’s hangars.

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