Pawan Hans may lease out helicopters to India navy: Report

File Photo: A fleet of Pawan Hans helicopters.

New Delhi: India‘s national helicopter carrier Pawan Hans Limited is said to be in talks with the nation’s navy to lease its utility choppers, urgently required by the defence force to plug a critical operational capabilities gap.

Pawan Hans looks to cash in on the delays faced by the Indian Navy in the procurement of 12 to 16 utility helicopters due to delayed processes, an opportunity that could grow bigger in the days to come if the leasing works out well for the maritime force.

The state-run helicopter operator is projecting itself as a reliable option to the Indian Navy, leveraging its existing fleet of choppers to fit the role as the fleet’s operational hub is jointly located with the major naval base in Mumbai, the Economic Times reported today.

While a go-ahead for the leasing of the Pawan Hans fleet is awaited from the navy, the leasing of the Pawan Hans fleet by the defence force increases it value among potential investors, as the government has decided to disinvest all of the central government’s stakes from the company.

The government is said to have received at least four potential bids from private companies for the disinvestment proposal, it said, without stating from where it got the information for the report.

“The navy is facing an acute shortage of helicopters, with its fleet of Chetak choppers nearing the end of service life. It does have the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) in service but the choppers are unable to operate from all platforms,” the report said.

The Indian Navy is pursuing a possible Rs. 21,000 crore ($2.9 billion, in today’s currency conversion) ‘Make in India‘ project to procure 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) under the Strategic Partnership model of military procurement from the Indian private sector having foreign collaboration.

But the 111-choper programme is stuck due to last minute push by the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to offer its ALHs to meet the naval need, despite a Defence Acquisition Council deciding in 2018 that the platform did not meet the naval need and hence the need to go to the private sector to make the NUHs.

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy has reached out to foreign vendors, asking if they were willing and ready to offer their platforms under the leasing option, introduced for the first time in the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020, projecting a requirement of 12 to 16 such helicopters.

If leased, these helicopters will be maintained by the foreign vendor while an Indian Navy crew would operate them. While several leasing companies operate with fairly large fleet size, it would not be easy for them to offer choppers to the Navy, given the risk of operational flying and the challenges in getting such machines insured, the report said, citing unnamed sources.

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