June 5, 2015:
The Indian Navy recently received the first two (of six) Ka-31 helicopters back from Russia where they were sent for refurbishment. India has, until recently, been buying its naval helicopters from Russia and ordered 14 Ka-31s between 2004 and 2005. These were equipped with a powerful radar underneath so they could be used to go aloft and provide a long range early warning radar for a task force containing an aircraft carrier. India also bought another version (the Ka-28) for non-radar naval duties. These have gotten the job done but not as well as their Western counterparts. So when the Indian Navy finally selected a new naval helicopter at the end of 2014 the one chosen was the American S-70. This comes after more of a decade of efforts to get the Indian Navy a new helicopter. India’s slow, corrupt and generally inept military procurement bureaucracy was responsible for most of the delays. A major part of the problem was that the procurement officials had been ordered to buy Indian if possible. Lately the search has become quite urgent because Indian badly needed new naval anti-submarine helicopters. The navy currently has about 40 anti-submarine helicopters all of them more than two decades old and in need of replacement. But the Indian procurement bureaucrats demanded an Indian designed and manufactured helicopter. That has not worked out. Back in 2010 the navy bought six of the Indian made Dhruvs for evaluation and did not like what they saw. The main complaints were lack of engine power and poor reliability. These were considered fatal flaws for helicopters operating off ships and used for SAR (search and rescue) and ASW (anti-submarine warfare) work.
The 5.5 ton Dhruv was in development for two decades before the first one was delivered in 2002. Over the next eight years nearly 80 were delivered, mostly to the Indian Army. But some foreign customers (Nepal and Myanmar) also took a few. A series of crashes indicated some basic design flaws, which the manufacturer insisted did not exist. The navy disagreed, even though the fleet was desperate to replace over three dozen of its elderly Sea King helicopters (a 1950s design, and the Indian Navy models are 20-35 years old) and a dozen KA-28s.
Another major competitor in the effort to provide new naval helicopters were newly built Ka-31a. These are upgrades of the Ka-28, which originally entered Russian service in 1982. The 12 ton Ka-28 is an anti-submarine aircraft, while the more recent Ka-31 is a much improved Ka-28 with a large radar (that is deployed underneath the helicopter once it is in the air), and acts as an early warning radar aircraft. The Ka-28/31 have a cruising speed of 205 kilometers an hour, and a top speed 270 kilometers an hour. Sorties for both helicopters average 3-4 hours. Both have a useful load of four tons (weapons and additional electronics). The Ka-28s and Ka-31s are export versions of the more lavishly equipped Ka-27, used by the Russian navy.
The Ka-28/31 do not have the finish, reliability or reputation of Western models, but cost a lot less, and still gets the job done. For that reason India is refurbishing ten of its Ka-28s. Meanwhile the seagoing sailors need more and better anti-sub helicopters and for too many years they were getting neither. This is all too common with the Indian Navy, but for seagoing sailors it’s something you never get used to.
Recently India ordered 16 new American S-70s. These will arrive just in time because there there are only six operational Ka-28s, not even enough to equip the new Indian aircraft carrier; Vikramaditya. The navy would like to buy 16 new anti-sub helicopters, preferably from a Western supplier. The procurement bureaucracy and parliament finally gave in.
The S-70s are the most popular military helicopter in the world and the most widely exported. The S-70 is actually the export version of the basic S-60 design. Both the U.S. Army Blackhawk and U.S. Navy Seahawk are variants of the S-60.
Most American military helicopters (UH-60, HH-60, MH-60) are militarized versions of the Sikorsky S-60, a 1970s design that won the competition to replace the older UH-1 "Huey". The army currently has about 2,000 UH-60s and is upgrading the force with the new "M" model. So far, about 2,800 UH-60s have been built.
The UH-60 was introduced in 1979. The 11 ton UH-60M can carry 14 troops, or 1.1 tons of cargo internally, or four tons slung underneath. Cruise speed is 278 kilometers an hour. Max endurance is two hours, although most sorties last 90 minutes or less. Max altitude is 5,790 meters (19,000 feet).