January 14, 2013
Credit: Credit: Russian Helicopters
Tony Osborne London
Plans to produce helicopters in India and China indicate a new direction for Russian Helicopters as the state-owned manufacturer makes bigger strides to take on its Western rivals.
The consortium, 100% owned by Oboronprom, Russia's aerospace holding company, wants to open an assembly line for helicopters in India. The new facility would be a critical component in the push to win the Indian armed forces' requirement for 197 light multirole helicopters—a program in which the coaxial Kamov Ka-226 is competing. It would also provide a useful advantage as India's civil helicopter market begins to take shape.
Russian Helicopters signed an agreement on Dec. 26 with Elcom Systems Private Ltd., part of the Indian investment conglomerate SUN Group, to set up a new facility to build models from the Mi- and Ka- families of helicopters. The move is significant because until now Russian Helicopters has not built a single helicopter outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), instead operating from its facilities inside the Russian Federation.
But now, Russian Helicopters, under the leadership of CEO Dimitry Petrov, is taking a view similar to that of its Western rivals, Eurocopter and AgustaWestland, both of which have set up final assembly lines overseas to establish a greater foothold in the region. Russian Helicopters currently claims a 14% share of the military and civil market, but is keen to boost that figure as it introduces new products.
While it is recognized that ambitious fighter programs may deliver ground-breaking technologies, the local manufacture of helicopters, particularly for the commercial and parapublic market, can deliver useful skills and knowledge. The increased use of rotary-wing aircraft as air ambulances and for law enforcement also indicates improvements in a population's quality of life.
Russian Helicopters has so far provided only scant details on the India project. But it is likely to start with the production of components for the Ka-226 light helicopter before expanding to build and complete final assembly of the aircraft, as well as engage in ground and flight testing of the type and other models in the Russian Helicopters stable. The move comes following Russian President Vladimir's Putin's pledge to strengthen historically strong ties between his country and India, despite the fact that several significant defense programs have not all gone Moscow's way.
The two countries did, however, sign off on a significant contract to purchase new Sukhoi fighters and Mi-17 helicopters. Similar plans for helicopter production have also been discussed for China, another strong Russian Helicopters customer, which recently ordered 52 Ulan-Ude-built Mi-171s. In conjunction with Chinese manufacturer Avicopter, joint production of the Kamov Ka-32 model is being explored and work is pushing ahead on the development of a new heavy-lift helicopter—smaller than the 56-ton Mi-26 with a maximum takeoff weight of around 30-40 tons. It has been suggested that production of Ka-32s in China could begin in two years. A similar scheme discussed for Jordan in conjunction with Oboronprom back in 2006, also to build the Ka-226, has fallen by the wayside.