The Indian Navy will this year get at least three of the 24 heavy-duty MH-60R SeaHawk helicopters, equipped with multi-mode radars and night-vision devices as well as armed with Hellfire missiles, MK-54 torpedoes and precision-kill rockets. The 140-warship Navy is currently grappling with just a handful of old anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters like Kamov-28s and Sea Kings when the constant and malicious loitering of Chinese nuclear and diesel-electric submarines is only going to further increase in the IOR.

All the 24 MH-60R helicopters, which will operate from frontline warships including aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, will be inducted by end-2023 or so. It will somewhat plug the critical operational gap on this front. The team of pilots and technicians for training and induction of the MH-60Rs will be going to the US in May-June.

ASW choppers typically fly ahead of warships to “dunk” their sonars into deep waters, “ping” for enemy submarines, and then fire missiles, torpedoes and depth charges to clear the path for the fleet during hostilities. They can also undertake anti-ship strikes, over the horizon network-centric operations and electronic warfare missions.

The Navy, in fact, has also projected a long-term requirement for another 123 naval multi-role helicopters (NMRHs), after the 24 MH-60Rs, but the proposed “Make in India” project for them is still nowhere on the horizon. The MH-60Rs are a replacement for the older Sea King 42/42A helicopters that were retired in the 1990s. The process to acquire these 24 choppers, began way back in 2005.

Manufactured by Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin, the MH-60Rs will be the third type of iconic US helicopters to be inducted by Indian armed forces. The IAF has already inducted 22 Apache attack and 15 heavy-lift Chinook choppers, both manufactured by Boeing Defence.

Malaysia's Quest For A Cost-Effective Fighter Package

India's TEJAS light fighter has emerged as a top contender and would fulfil Malaysia's quest of a practical fighter platform for the Malaysian Air Force. TEJAS currently is being offered at cheaper rates than the Swedish SAAB Gripen and the Chinese JF-17, it is worthy to note that the Gripen is far more modern and capable than the JF-17. India is offering the improved TEJAS MK-1A version, with a modern AESA radar, new avionics and the capability to integrate a variety of weapons, for the potential export order and is confident that the aircraft will be an ideal fit for the Malaysian requirement. The initial requirement is for 12 jets, with options for 24 more in the future, said the people.

Besides full support in training both ground and air personnel, India has offered to create a full maintenance, repair and overhaul facility for the TEJAS fleet in Malaysia to ensure a high rate of availability. India has been in talks with Malaysia on the potential order for more than three years now. In 2019, India had dispatched two of its TEJAS fighters for the LIMA show at Langkawi as part of its efforts to pitch the jets for the export order. India and Malaysia have also been engaging in multi-level joint exercises and training programmes as part of plans to upgrade defence cooperation.

The Indian aircraft is priced at just over $42 million per unit, a price made possible given economies of scale after the IAF placed an order for 83 fighter jets. This will make it the most lucrative aircraft on offer to Malaysia in the global scenario, said the people. Besides the Gripen and the JF-17, the South Korean T-50 is also a contender for the contract. Though Pakistan has also been pitching hard for its JF-17 fighter, its Chinese origins are likely to be an important consideration given that Malaysia has ongoing sea boundary disputes with Beijing.