Naval Air: No Mercy For Insufficiently Patriotic Sailors

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May 5, 2017: In early 2017 the Indian Navy was forced to buy another 16 Dhruv helicopters. At the same time the Indian Coast Guard was forced to accept another 16. Why the reluctance of the seagoing services to operate this Indian developed and made helicopter? In short because of problems that have been around for a long time and never get fixed. It all began back in 2010 when the navy bought six 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. Since then the manufacturer has made improvements and addressed most of the complaints. But like the original, the later models of Dhruv were more promise than performance and the seagoing forces wanted to buy more reliable foreign helicopters.

The 5.5 ton Dhruv was in development for two decades before the first one was delivered in 2002. The Dhruv can carry up to 14 passengers or four stretchers. Max load is 2.5 tons and endurance is about two hours (depending on load and altitude). The Dhruv can also fly as high as 6,000 meters (nearly 20,000 feet). Northern India has a lot of mountains, so operating at high altitude was a key design requirement.

By 2017 over 250 had been built or were on order. Most went to the Indian Army. But some foreign customers (Nepal and Myanmar) also took a few. A series of crashes early on 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 British Sea King helicopters (a 1950s design, and the Indian Navy models are 20-35 years old) and a dozen Russian KA-28s. The navy was allowed to get some foreign helicopters for missions that were clearly beyond the capabilities of the Dhruv, but otherwise the Dhruv was mandatory.

Until 2010 the “Indian made”, Dhruv was assembled mostly (90 percent) with imported parts. The manufacturer had kept quiet about this because at least half the parts in "Indian made" weapons are supposed to be made in India. Since then the percentage of Indian made components has increased. As embarrassing as this revelation was, it was the performance problems that bothered military users the most although Indian made components often generate a lot of user complaints.

 


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