ALH Dhruv: Navy’s Arjun tank?

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.

Early days: Dhruv on board a Navy ship; Image courtesy:

The beginning

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.

A former Indian Coast Guard Dhruv sporting Maldivian colours

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

2. By not freezing the design of ALH, the HAL had to accommodate the increasing demand of the customer for additional requirements. This led to 363 modifications in 34 helicopters. The Company claimed Rs. 12.11 crore and realised only Rs. 6.51 crore against Rs. 15.10 crore incurred on modifications, as there was no clarity regarding cost sharing.
3. On control saturation – While the domestic customer’s (IAF) reaction to the design deficiency was serious and questioned the Company’s capabilities, reaction of FAE (Ecuador Air Force) was awaited (December 2009). The very limitation of control saturation of ALH led to non-receipt (July 2007) of a potential export order from Chile though Rs. 10 crore was spent for demonstration and certification of ALH at Chile.
4. On weight – The collaboration agreement envisaged the gross weight of basic version to be four tons with Basic empty weight (BEW) of 2.240 tons. Later (1999) it was expected that TM333 2B2 engines fitted in ALH would meet a requirement of BEW of 2.550 tons. However, when pressed to field service in March 2002, ALH weighed 5.5 tons with BEW of 2.650 tons. Due to excess weight and limited power of the engine, the utility mission of 200 kg payload at six KM altitude was not achieved. Hence, the ALH which was to be successor to Cheetah/Chetak, was found to be unsuitable. HAL, is, however, silent about the reasons for terminating collaboration agreement
despite non-achievement of guaranteed parameter.
5. Due to its failure to set up in-house facilities for manufacture of gear boxes for the Shakti engines, the Company outsourced its requirements to TM. They were procured at a higher cost than what the Company had agreed with the customer. This will result in non recovery of differential cost of Rs. 5.50 crore.
6. The Design, Development and Production of Military Aircraft and Airborne Stores-2002 (DDPMAS), provides for concurrent certification of the newly developed aircraft/equipment/store to induct it at an early date to the services. Despite more than two decades into the development and production of ALH, the technical requirements of defence services could not be met by the Company and all the 74 helicopters supplied to defence customers were flying with concessions.
7. MOD authorised (December 1998) the Company to undertake design and development of ALH- Weapon system integration (WSI) to be completed by January 2003. The development is still in progress and Company had spent an amount of Rs. 424 crore (September 2009). It was observed that issues like selection of weapons, selection of vendor etc., were not addressed for timely completion of WSI integration project. Out of the pending order for delivery of 159 ALH to Army and IAF, 76 have to be delivered with WSI version. The delay in delivery has serious impact on the defence preparedness of the country.
8. Even though, the Company delivered the first ALH in 2001-02 and has been showcasing them in the Air shows since 2003 (total cost on air shows- Rs. 59 crore till March 2009), in the absence of international certificates, the Company could not penetrate the international market.
9. Inventory control in Helicopter division was found to be lax. A task force constituted to make a comprehensive critical review of the inventory, based on an observation on the accounts of the Company for the year 2008-09 observed (September 2009) that (i) items valued at Rs. 7 crore in the shipping location (out of Rs. 11 crore analysed), though already been dispatched continued to be shown as part of the inventory, (ii) items valued at Rs. 2.0 crore (out of rejected items valued at Rs. 11 crore) were found to be shelf expired /duplicate entries and (iii) items valued at Rs. 9 crore (out of items valued at Rs. 12 crore) shown as lying with OEM though received back.
(CAG observations have been edited for brevity)


3 thoughts on “ALH Dhruv: Navy’s Arjun tank?”

  1. A decent piece of research. Didn’t know much myself, bits on need to know basis only. Managing own babies and hardly any time for others baby. Problems exist and why do they exist only with DRDO, HAL and other Indigenous Agencies. Have rescued a ICG ALH at sea with some perennial alarm occurring in almost all ALH in their tail rotor. This alarm has been used and abused to the benefit to own advantage by some smart Pilots as well as treated as an emergency. Solution updates not known, don’t want to know. Somehow old Chetak did far better and with proven record except few examples of stuntman-ship mishap by the ace of aviation considering themselves blue blooded linage in defence forces. Very few ICG Ships cleared for ALH deck landing, specially the old ones of AOPV.

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