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Army wives group writes to Modi over chopper crash, replacements approved but delayed

New Delhi: Peeved with the tragic crash of a Cheetah helicopter in Arunachal Pradesh this week that led to the death of Lt Colonel Saurabh Yadav and injuries to his co-pilot, an informal Army wives group has sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for the quick replacement of the ageing fleet.

The Indian Army Wives Agitation Group, that came into being in 2014 when they started an online petition for replacement of the Cheetah and Chetak fleet of helicopters following a crash that killed three Army officers.

The letter to Modi termed the choppers as “flying coffins”.

“Do the armed forces officers and their families not have the right to live in an India that provides safe flying machines to its pilots to safeguard the nation?” the letter asked.

It stated that for six decades, cheetah and chetak has been the backbone of the rotary wing of three military services.

“The production has stopped by France since 1980 (sic).These flying machines have turned into flying coffins as they became obsolete. Thirty one officers have been killed in accidents since March 2017,” the letter said.

It added that for the “first time in world history serving officers’ wives filed a petition in 2014 challenging the safety of nations true heroes”.

The 2014 petition on was filed by Advocate Meenal Wagh Bhosale, a serving engineer officer’s wife and 140 of other serving officer wives supported it. It amassed over 20,000 signatures.

“We had met Mr Parrikar (then defence minister) in 2014 and he promised to look after it but sadly the situation remains the same as no decision took place. Recently two days back in a helicopter crash we lost an officer near the china border causing (sic) engine failure,” the letter said.

Speaking to ThePrint, Bhosale said, “We know the risks and challenges involved as spouses of Army officers and we are prepared for anything, just like our spouses. Whenever our husbands go out on sorties on board this helicopter, we become tense because we know that the helicopters should not be flying”.

She said that the government should fast track the replacement of the helicopters.

Also Read: IAF to increase Sukhois armed with BrahMos supersonic cruise missile with over 500km-range

Replacements cleared but no formal order

The process to replace these helicopters has been a long one. It was only in November last year that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) approved the procurement of 12 indigenous Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) from Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) to replace these helicopters.

As reported by ThePrint, these 12 new choppers — six each for Army and IAF — were to come under a limited series production configuration, starting from August this year, after which a larger order was to be placed.

However, sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint that a formal contract is yet to be signed, which means that there are no orders yet, even a year after MoD cleared it.

Sources said that HAL will be producing four LUHs this year and eight next year but deliveries will not happen until the contract is signed.

Also as per Request for Quotation (RFQ), the first LUH should have AFCS (Automatic Flight Control System). But it is not yet certified and hence the deliveries of these 12 choppers will happen only during 2023-24.

Only after the delivery of limited series production LUH, a case for series production will be made.

India’s overall demand for LUHs, meant for transportation of men and supplies to high-altitude areas besides evacuation and reconnaissance, is estimated to be over 400.

While HAL is expected to meet at least half the total requirement, Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd (IRGL), a joint venture between HAL and two Russian firms, Russian Helicopters and Rosoboronexport, will meet the rest. IRGL was meant to manufacture Russian Kamov 226T helicopters in India.

However, the agreement for this joint venture product, which was the Modi government’s first government-to-government deal in 2015, hangs in the balance over indigenous content requirement and cost and is unlikely to go ahead.

Also Read: Mirages, MiG 29s, Jaguars to be phased out by 2035, IAF seeks more aircraft

Helicopters from the ‘60s and ‘70s 

The IAF inducted the seven-seater French-origin helicopters, called Alouette III, in 1962 and the state-run HAL handed over its first licence-produced Chetak (Alouette III) to IAF in 1965.

And it was in 1970 that HAL signed a deal with France to locally produce the five-seater SA-315B Lama helicopters which was rechristened Cheetah when delivered to the IAF in 1976.

Though the first lot to be commissioned are not flying, the majority of the fleet of the 186 Chetak and over 200 of Cheetah lie in the vintage category, serving for over 40 years now.

And this technology of the 1960s will continue to fly for the next few decades more as the forces are still ordering them, given the lack of options.

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)

Also Read: Prachand, India’s new Light Combat Helicopter, doesn’t yet have main arsenal or protection suite

Source: The Print

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