How safe are the Indian Army’s aging fleets of Chetaks (Aerospatiale SA316 Alouette III) and Cheetahs (SA315B Alouette II/III mix)? These old designs have consistently proven themselves in high altitude operations, and remain useful as long as their airframes remain safe. The problem is that at their age, the safety margin is pretty slim. Or worse.
In 2003, India issued an RFP for 197 light helicopters estimating a deal worth between $500-$600 million to buy 60 helicopters outright, with the remaining 137 being built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Eurocopter’s AS550 C3 Fennec and Bell Textron’s 407 competed in the second and final round of summer trials, and as 2007 ticked toward a close, it looked like we had a winner. As often happens in India, however, the process ended up completely derailed. A new RFP out for a successor “Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopter program” (RSH) went out in 2008, and testing was done in 2010. Has the RSH competition gone the way of the 1st aborted contract, even as India’s high altitude border posts struggle for adequate support?