India to Buy 80 Mi-17v5 Helicopters
In October 2006, the Indo-Asian News Service reported that the Indian Air Force will buy 80 medium lift multi-role Mi-17 1V helicopters from Russia. India’s Chief of Air Staff Marshal S.P. Tyagi reportedly told the news agency that the contractual detail would be finalized within a few months, that Russia will start delivering the helicopters in 2007, and that deliveries would finish within a year. MosNews estimated the deal’s value at approximately $662 million, with the exact value depending on ancillary equipment like avionics.
The deal is the result of a dance over time involving both Sikorsky and India’s HAL, and the Mi-17 1V incorporates a few changes to the well-known Mi-17 already in service with India. Of course, “a couple of months” in Indian procurement time turns out to be over 2 years – and in a now-familiar scenario, Russia ended up asking for about double the originally agreed deal terms. Nevertheless, a deal is now done.
Maneuvering for Position: Offers and Types
July 2006 reports had characterized the sale as conditional on Russia buying 20 of India’s Dhruv light helicopers, but this has not mentioned since and appears to have been dropped. Sikorsky had also bid on the contract, but the IAF reportedly believed the Mi-17’s commonality with the existing fleet made it a batter choice.
According to Aeronautics.ru, the Mi-17-1V Helicopter is manufactured in the following versions: combat; assault (carrying about 30 airborne troops); ambulance (with medical equipment and 12 stretchers); and transport (airlifting up to 4,000 kg in the cargo cabin and up to 4,000 kg on external sling). Its two TV3-117BM Turboshaft Engines are rated at 1,900 hp each, giving this variant greater service/hovering ceiling, improved performance in “hot and high” conditions, and better load capacity. An enlarged rear door with a loading ramp substitutes for the older clamshell doors, making it quicker and easier to load and unload troops and supplies. The avionics set includes radio and flight navigation equipment used to fly the helicopter under day, night, and adverse weather conditions, and de-icing equipment.
The Mi-17v5 differs from the Mi-171V in having a protruding ‘dolphin’ nose rather than the glassed-in round noses other Indian Mi-17s possess, more powerful 2,200hp TV3-117VM engines with new auxiliary power unit, and an extra port door on the starboard side. It shares the rear fuselage ramp that distinguishes both of these models from earlier Mi-17 versions. The improved Mi-17v7 variant reportedly features the 2,400hp VK-2500 engine with a digital FADEC for full performance in hot and high conditions. This would seem to make it more suitable for India – but media reports indicate that the order is for 80 Mi-17v5s
These characteristics are especially important on India’s mountainous northern and northeastern borders. India already operates both the Mi-17 and the improved 1V as the Pratap, and StrategyPage notes that the country has about 150 Mi-17 and Mi-8 helicopters in service. IAF Mi-17s were used in the Nov 29/08 commando assault over Nariman House, which killed some of the terrorists conducting their massacre in Mumbai.
The Mi-17 is popular far beyond India, and the type’s consistent string of wins indicate that Russia may have a strong commercial winner on its hands. The American UH-60 is more expensive than the Mi-17, and lacks the tactical flexibility of its rear ramp option. The European NH90 is more expensive still, and offers greater capabilities including a rear ramp and better lift – but suffers from serious delivery and availability problems. The Mi-17, in contrast, offers comparable performance for less, no political restrictions on its use, greater integrated armament capabilities than its competitors, optional versions that include western engines and avionics, and availability that has remained good thus far. While international competition can also be expected from Eurocopter’s Puma family, the Mi-17 is poised to remain a strong export success.
Doing the Deal: Updates and Key Events
The problem for India’s MoD was that Russia had most of the negotiating leverage. The competing European NH90 medium helicopter is still badly backlogged on the production lines, as is the American CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter that has become so popular in Afghanistan’s “hot and high” conditions. The European medium-heavy EH-101 is in better shape than the NH90, but its still backlogged to the point that Britain bought Denmark’s fleet to upgrade its front-line capacity, rather than waiting for delivery from the factory. That leaves Russia’s Mi-17, which has abundant international orders and does not depend on India; or adoption of the American S-70 Black Hawk, with its corresponding removal of key features and questionable “hot and high” performance; or possibly Eurocopter’s EC532/EC725 Cougar.
Inducting either the S-70 Black Hawk or Eurocopter Cougar into service would come with an additional cost of its own, since the helicopters would lack commonality with India’s existing 12 squadrons of Mi-8s and Mi-17s. These helicopters are already significantly more expensive than the Mi-17; Brazil will pay over $1 billion to buy 50 Eurocopter Cougars, and based on recent orders the simple fly-away cost of 80 UH-60M Black Hawks would hover near $1 billion. Additional training, maintenance tooling, spare parts inventory, and related factors add an expected 30-40% to a new helicopter type’s procurement cost. Which means that available alternatives remained significantly more expensive, even when compared to a Russian deal that had doubled in price.
Aug 27/10: RIA Novosti quotes India’s Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik, who says that delivery of their 80 ordered Mi-17s will begin in late 2010, and adds that the Army intends to order another 59 Mi-17s for its fleet.
Dec 5/08: Indian MoD Director General (Acquisitions) Sashi Kant Sharma and Rosoboronexport Director General A P Isaykin reportedly sign a $1.2 billion contract for 80 Mi-17 helicopters, after the officials talks conclude between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian “President” Medvedev. Times of India report | Zee News.
A Times of India op-ed is less encouraging:
“As far as defence agreements go, the $1.2 billion deal for 80 Mi-17 medium lift utility helicopters was a disappointment. While the new acquisitions will replace obsolete Mi-8s and the substantial offset commitment was a bonus, the Mi-17 is already at the end of its upgrade potential and is being superseded by later models at the top of Russian arms exporters’ lists. More worryingly, no substantial progress was made on the Gorshkov issue… Given that 70 per cent of India’s defence acquisitions are sourced from Russia, these failures are troubling. They raise a larger question of overwhelming dependence on the Russian defence industry. With US, Israeli and EU companies clamouring for a share of the Indian pie, the defence establishment must consider looking seriously at its list of options.”
Nov 29/08: Indian Mi-17 helicopters are used during a successful commando assault against hostage-holding terrorists in Narmian House, during the Mumbai massacre. Black Cat commandos of India’s elite National Security Guard (NSG) carry out the mission. Times of India report | Sify News: “Near-perfect coordination with little political interference paid off”
June 1/08: The Press Trust of India reports that Russia’s state-run Rosoboroexport has hiked the price tag for the Mi-171Vs from $650 million or so agreed in March 2007, to over a billion dollars. This comes on the heels of similar moves by Russia with respect to India’s aircraft carrier deal, and PTI reports that “…the demand for more than fifty per cent price hike has irked the Ministry of Defence.”
May 21/07: An Austrian firm named Rite Approach Ltd. is suing Russian firm Kazan, who made a deal with Rite Approach and then paid the 16% commission on a (previous) deal for 16 Mi-17 helicopters to Russian state firm Rosoboronexport instead. As IBN notes:
“What’s interesting to note here is the fact that payment of undisclosed commissions is banned by India.”
Read “Lawsuit in India Shines a Spotlight on Under-the-Table Practices” for more.
Oct 18/07: Defense News claims that negotiations for India’s recent program were finalized during a defense ministers’ meeting meeting in Russia, and “a senior defense ministry official” claims that contracts will be inked with Rosoboronexport within the next 2 months.
The $310 million worth of upgrades under the reported deal will be carried out on 46 Mi-8, 78 Mi-17 and 48 Mi-171V helicopters to add instrument landing system radars, very high-frequency omni-directional range radars, an advanced weather radar and a digital moving map display. The Mi-17s will also receive Bharat Electronics Tarang 1B radar warning receivers, and missile approach warning systems. Other upgrades are possible, mostly with respect to weaponry, but will be floated as separate tenders if approved.
If the early reports are correct, 2 helicopters of each type will upgraded in Russia, and the rest performed by state-owned HAL under license at a rate of 36 helicopters per year.
The purchase of 80 more medium-lift Mi-171V helicopters will add to the fleet, and will reportedly cost about $140 million and be finalized by the end of 2008.