India is expediting the purchase of 384 light helicopters to replace the current fleet of Cheetah and Chetak aircraft in the Indian army and air force.

The Eurocopter AS 350 Fennec and Russian Kamov 226 Sergei are in the running for the requirement, a program expected to be worth more than $1.5 billion.

In 2007, the defense ministry canceled a previous deal with Eurocopter for RSHs following allegations that bidders had failed to follow competition guidelines. A new request for proposals was issued in 2008, and the flight tests of the two helos in the race were completed in December 2010.

“The finance department has not raised objections regarding the trial process for selection,” Defense Minister A.K. Antony says.

“The proposed helos will be used by the army and the air force to replace their aging fleet of vintage Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which are critical for providing supplies to troops deployed in Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield, and other high-altitude areas,” a senior defense ministry official says.

Chetak is a single-engine turboshaft, light utility French helicopter able to carry six passengers or a 500-kg (1,100-lb.) load. The anti-tank version carries four AS-11 wire-guided missiles. It has a maximum speed of 220 kph (140 mph). Cheetah is a single-engine helicopter of French origin able to carry three passengers or a 100-kg external sling load. It has a maximum cruise speed of 121 kph and can climb to 1 km (3,280 ft.) in 4 min.   

The air force continues to fly armed Chetaks on anti-tank-role missions, as well as for casualty evacuation and general duties, while the lighter Cheetah is used as an airborne forward air control node in close proximity to enemy troops and armor.

It is estimated that of the 197 helicopters to be procured, the army will get 133 and the air force 54. The two forces need a total of 384 choppers, of which 197 will be supplied by foreign vendors; the rest will be co-developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. with a foreign manufacturer.

Meanwhile, the proposal for procurement of a basic trainer aircraft for the air force is awaiting consideration by India’s Cabinet Committee on Security, Antony says. “The proposal regarding the selection procedure of the Pilatus trainer has been progressed in accordance with the defense procurement procedure,” Antony says.