Should the title have ended with a question mark or a full stop? In choosing the former, I have left it to my readers to answer the question placed.
Though much has been made of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv’s ‘incompleteness’ vis a vis the needs of the Indian Army and Indian Air Force (IAF) on several grounds, very little has been explored into the Indian Navy’s (IN) tryst with the chopper.
The IN today flies 08 Dhruvs and that too is strictly shore-based flying. Those in the know say the Dhruv of today is a severely de-weaponised bird, used essentially for Search And Rescue (SAR) missions. Contrast that with the Navy’s initial interest in the Dhruv taking over the Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) role, presumably from the ageing Seakings, and one wonders what went wrong. Not just that, one learns that Dhruv was also considered very seriously for ship-based flying, which is indeed a very complex role and only given to proven platforms. This would have also meant bulk orders for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) from the Navy. Obviously, none of this happened. Worse, there seems little in the future to hope for things to turn around.
Former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral (Retd) Arun Prakash, while speaking to the author said that the Dhruv failed on several of QRs (Qualitative Requirements) that were laid down by the Navy. “The biggest drawback was that because on board inside a ship’s hangar, the space is very limited, we wanted the chopper to have hydraulic folder rotor blades. It would not only make the chopper fit in well but the hydraulic system would also make the entire task much easier and quicker,” he added. The HAL, he said, could not deliver on that.
There is more.
For ASW role, naturally, the aircraft needs to be weaponised. So when the Navy sat down to test the Dhruv armed with torpedos and other systems, it hit upon yet another roadblock. “Endurance was the single biggest concern. Our requirements stipulated that once armed, the chopper should do 2-3hrs on-task flying. Dhruv lasted not beyond an hour,” said an officer involved with the process. Once weaponised, the weight of the Dhruv seemed to be too much to take for a ship, thus the chopper was faced with outright rejection as far as the men in white were concerned.
Adm. Arun Prakash put it bluntly. “Unless the HAL makes a Mach II chopper, which has to have a better and more powerful engine, the Dhruv won’t interest the Navy,” he said. A senior officer, at the decision-making level too confirmed the situation. “We are not looking at the Dhruv, we gave the aircraft enough chances,” he said. It is a sorry moment for Dhruv, especially at a time when we are slated to become world’s largest arms bazaar, and unfortunately, the largest importers of it as well.
2010 CAG report on Naval version of Dhruv
The navy required the integration of Tactical Missile System (TMS) and the Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) into the ALH. For that, the Navy released Rs. 139.92 cr. However, in September 2006, it was decided to not accept ALH in ASW role. Despite this decision, the project was allowed to continue and Rs 138 cr was spent till September 2009.
Coast Guard and the Dhruv
Observers say that it was the Indian Coast Guard, which was the first force under the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to have ordered and inducted the Dhruv. But that kind of enthusiasm is nowhere present in the Coast Guard today. The author encountered a similar reasoning while discussing the role of ALH in the force as was with the navy. A senior serving officer of the Coast Guard said, “Post-26/11, our requirement for surveillance-oriented halos has gone up. And we are examining a number of options but Dhruv does not fit in there.” HAL has just not been able to make the required modifications in the wingspan systems of the chopper, he added. Similar noises.
Vice Adm. Anil Chopra, the present Director General of the Indian Coast Guard had once remarked that based on government’s present outlook and funding, CG will double its strength in the next five years and will almost triple its present inventory by the end of a decade from now. It only goes to show that the Dhruv has really missed the bus and in a colossal way at that.
Coast Guard used to fly 04 Dhruvs from INS Hansa, Goa. Presently, they have moved 03 them to Porbandar and gifted 01 to Maldives.
HAL: No answers to give!
Once the emerging picture was clear, I began seeking time from the HAL authorities to make a report on the above mentioned subject. However, my queries were not answered. This procedure went on for a few weeks. Everytime I requested them permission to come down to their Helicopter complex and interview their team of experts on Dhruv, I was given a varied set of reasons to justify their continuing silence. Finally, HAL admitted that neither the Indian Navy nor the Coast Guard was placing fresh orders.
Rather than a journalist making remarks on a technical topic, I have chosen to cull out and place for you, certain observations that the CAG report of 2010 has made on the HAL’s handling of ALH. Please go through them and let me know where does the blame lie :
1. A sum of Rs. 1,541 crore (Rs. 960 crore by the defence customer and Rs. 581 crore by the Company) was spent till September 2009 on the ALH project