India's 14th edition of Aero India air show, which was held from Feb. 13 to 17 at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru, focused on indigenous aerospace and defense technologies in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Atma Nirbhar Bharat" (self-reliant India) campaign.
The event, themed "the runway to a billion opportunities," was attended by over 800 exhibitors, including 110 foreign exhibitors, and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi.
HAL, the state-owned defense major, dominated the rotary-wing displays at Aero India 2023, while flying displays by various fighters and the debut of two Lockheed Martin F-35As thrilled the crowds.
HAL showcased its full range of helicopter products at Aero India 2023, including the light twin Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), 3-ton single-engine Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), and newly-inducted 5.8-ton Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) "Prachand."
The ALH (Mk 3, Mk 4) and LCH are powered by the Indo-French Ardiden 1H1 Shakti engine, while the LUH uses a derated variant of the Ardiden 1U engine. All of these helicopters were prominently displayed at the show.
HAL showcased a scale model of the Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH) at the indoor pavilion of Aero India 2023, and announced a workshare agreement with Safran Helicopter Engines to jointly develop an engine for the 13-ton IMRH and its naval version DBMRH (deck-based multi role helicopter).
This agreement will ensure that all five variants of HAL's helicopter family, which includes close to 1,000 aircraft, will be equipped with turboshaft engines that are customized to meet specific "hot and high" requirements.
Prior to Aero India 2023, the Prime Minister inaugurated India's largest helicopter manufacturing facility on February 6. Spread over 615 acres, the facility was set up by HAL at Tumakuru, about 70 miles outside Bengaluru, for the series production of the LUH.
However, an Inter-governmental Agreement (IGA) between India and Moscow for the joint manufacturing of the Ka-226T "Climber" at the same plant remains stalled due to workshare disagreements.
The newly inaugurated HAL helicopter manufacturing facility, although currently underutilized, will be used for the series production of LUH, LCH, and IMRH, as well as to augment the manufacturing and MRO of HAL's rotary product range.
The Indian army and air force have projected a requirement of 400 light helicopters to replace vintage Alouette III and Lama, with most, if not all, expected to come via the LUH route as the Ka-226T project remains stalled.
HAL's dominance over the Indian defense forces' helicopter requirements for the foreseeable future is complete, with delivery of over 300 ALH, four LCH for the Indian air force (with more to follow), limited series production of LUH, and preliminary design of IMRH.
The navy and coast guard have also acquired 16 ALH Mk III MR and are expected to order more in the future, while the navy has issued a letter of intent for 60 customized helicopters in a similar category called Utility Helicopter Maritime (UHM).
The dominance of HAL in the Indian defense forces' helicopter requirements also implies the end of the Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) program, which was designed to engage the private sector through a Strategic Partnership (SP) model.
The remaining numbers of the NUH program would be unviable to justify a new route. As a result, private sector companies, which are rich in talent and enterprise but lacking firm orders, are expected to focus on making sub-assemblies and spare parts in the future.