India’s slow, corrupt and generally inept military procurement bureaucracy has struck again. This time it is all about 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 decided the replacement should be 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 indicates some basic design flaws, which the manufacturer insists do not exist. The navy disagrees, even though the fleet is 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.
The Ka-28 entered service in 1982, in the Soviet (later Russian) navy. 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, as soon as Defense Ministry officials sign off on the deal. This approval keeps getting delayed, for a variety reasons. The seagoing sailors need more and better anti-sub helicopters and at the moment they are getting neither. This is all too common with the Indian Navy, but for seagoing sailors it’s something you never get used to. So at the moment there are only four 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 are not cooperating.