AS565 MBE Panther Naval Helicopter

Any decent sized surface warship in today's navy has the capability to host at least one navalized helicopter if not more. The steady accretion in the Indian Navy's (IN's) surface fleet therefore naturally also means that there is a need to augment the number of ship-borne helicopters in its inventory. Besides, the Navy in any case has ever expanding roles and responsibilities which translate into requirements for greater rotary capability.

To that end, IN has been looking to bring in new utility and multirole helicopters in order to both replace legacy units as well as increase the overall number of such machines under its ambit while simultaneously introducing new technology. It would therefore be worthwhile to take a closer look at the status of various helicopter tenders issued by the IN as well as the opportunities for domestic industry therein.

The Navy has actually been running a competition for 16 naval multi-role helicopters (NMRH) since 2011 with the request for information (RFI) being issued in July that year. The two down-selected contenders in the fray are a maritime variant of the European-built NH90 known as the NATO frigate helicopter (NFH) from NH Industries and an export variant of the US-made SH-60 Seahawk from Sikorsky called the S-70B. Despite the trials for the $1.2 billion contract with the winning bidder required to deliver all helicopters within 46 months of contract signing in three phases were completed in 2011 itself, this tender has actually been delayed more than once with the latest slippage happening in mid-2013 when the Ministry of Defence (MOD) asked both finalists to extend the validity of their bids by another six months in July 2013. (Text Saurav Jha)

In early December 2017, select Indian media were invited to Airbus Helicopter’ facilities in Marignane, France for a two-day interactive session with senior company executives on the latest developments in their company as well as a status update of their plans for India’s helicopter requirements. As a bonus, they interacted with Mexican Navy’s Admiral Jose Maria Garcia Macedo and team who were being handed, in person, keys to their 10th and final AS565 MBe helicopter (see lead image). The theme of the tour can be summarised as being on the AS565 MBe helicopter and its attributes.

The AS565 MBe, also known as the Panther, is the state-of-the-art multi-role helicopter that was designed for a multitude of naval and coast guard missions such as maritime surveillance, search and rescue, casualty evacuation, offshore patrolling and counter-terrorism. It exudes a sleek appearance from nose to tail and the cockpit allows for excellent visibility through the glazed forward fuselage and the modern avionics include an automatic flight control and flight management system. The AS565 MBe combines new and proven technologies to offer “more value to operators,” and is equipped with two Safran Arriel 2N engines, which enhance its performance in hot & high conditions.

It also boasts a new main gearbox, a latest generation tail rotor and a 4-axis autopilot that reduces crew workload and makes the most demanding missions easier to perform. The main cabin can be rapidly reconfigured to conduct various roles and the Panther can be armed with several different kind of munitions and armaments, depending on the mission.

The helicopter performs a wide variety of roles. In its anti-surface unit warfare role, the AS565 MBe is highly effective in warfare missions, including over-the-horizon targeting for ships with long-range anti-ship missiles. By acting as the ship’s principal weapon system it can search, classify, shadow and strike with precision with stable hovering capabilities. In its anti-submarine warfare avatar, with an endurance of four hours and its capability to carry up to two torpedoes / Depth Charges, the AS565 MBe significantly multiples a surface ship’s ability to conduct Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) missions. The AS565 MBe is highly effective in anti-surface unit warfare missions (ASuW), including over-the-horizon targeting (OTHT) for ships with long-range anti-ship missiles.

By acting as the ship’s principal weapon system, it can search, classify, shadow and strike with precision well beyond the horizon. At Best Endurance Speed (VBE) the aircraft has a loiter time in excess of four hours.

For its deployment from ships, forward bases and other remote locations, the AS565 MBe is designed for simple and safe maintenance access. 

Replacement times are rapid for such assemblies as the engine, main rotor gearbox and blades, as well as main and tail rotor hubs. Also contributing to the serviceability are easy operational maintenance features such as fast lubrication of the main rotor head and tail rotor.

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