French firm Safran and HAL to set up engine plant in Bangalore, with primary focus on the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter

Design of the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics.

The project sanction for the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH), being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), is expected within this financial year, defence sources said.

Meanwhile, Safran Helicopter Engines and HAL have decided to set up their new joint venture company in Bengaluru, which will be dedicated to the “design, development, production, sales and support of helicopter engines” with the focus first on the IMRH, the French company announced.

The IMRH, expected to be ready by the end of this decade, is meant to replace the Mi-17s in service and will also have a naval version, the Deck Based Multi-Role Helicopter (DBMRH).

“The project is on schedule and HAL is utilising its own funds right now. The proof of concept is on track and the Detailed Project Report (DPR) is expected to be submitted next month for approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS),” a defence official said.

Once sanctioned, the development is expected to take around seven years, the official added.

The project is estimated to cost around ₹10,000 crore for the two different versions, as reported by The Hindu earlier. The Coast Guard is also keen on the DBMRH customised to its requirements.

The Safran statement came just after a reference to it in the Indo-French joint statement issued on Friday, which said that to enable progress on the IMRH programme, a shareholders’ agreement between HAL, India and Safran Helicopter Engine had been concluded for engine development.

“It will be dedicated to the design, development, production, sales and support of helicopter engines, with first objective to build the most adequate propulsion solution for the Indian Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) future 13-ton IMRH and the DBMRH. This joint venture will be India’s first engine design and manufacturing in house,” Safran said.

It further stated that this decision was achieved thanks to a dynamic common work cycle between the two companies, following a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on July 8, 2022 and an agreement on workshare reached during Aero India 2023.

“We at Safran Helicopter Engines are truly elated to partner with HAL and India to craft this new turboshaft engine joint venture set to address the Indian market and also future export opportunities,” said Cedric Goubet, CEO of Safran Helicopter Engines.

Safran and HAL have a long-standing cooperation on helicopter engines, including the Shakti engine, which powers HAL-produced helicopters, including the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv, weaponised-ALH Rudra and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) Prachand. More than 500 Shakti engines have already been produced, according to Safran.

Noting that they are leveraging HAL’s experience in manufacturing of more than 15 types of aircraft and helicopter engines and Safran Helicopter Engines’ expertise in designing turboshaft engines for this initiative, HAL CMD CB Ananthkrishnan said, “The objective is to co-develop and co-produce turboshaft engines in India - with immediate focus on IMRH and DBMRH.”

The Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) services for the TM333 and Shakti engines in the service of the Indian armed forces will be provided through the HE-MRO joint venture in Goa between the two companies, the statement added.

Replacement For Mi-17 Helicopter Fleet

The IAF operates a very large Mi-17 fleet — Mi-17, Mi-17 1V and Mi-17 V5. It is the workhorse of the IAF’s helicopter fleet. Between 2008 and 2013, India contracted 151 Mi-17V5s, the last of which were delivered in February 2016. In all, the IAF operates a wide mix of around 500 rotary platforms, which include around 90 Mi-17s, over 130 Mi-17V5s, over 70 ALH, including the weaponised variant, 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, one squadron of Mi-35 attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy lift helicopters, in addition to the LCH currently being inducted. The oldest lot of Mi-17s are expected to be phased out from 2028 onwards.

HAL is looking at benchmarking the proposed IMRH against its contemporary helicopters namely Russian Mi-17, Sikorsky S-92, AgustaWestland AW-101, NHIndustries NH-90 and Eurocopter EC-725 and intends to target the global helicopter market. The intended roles of the IMRH are to support air assault, air transport, combat logistics, combat search and rescue and casualty evacuation as well as be employed for VVIP duties, HAL officials had stated earlier.

The HAL plans to produce more than 1,000 helicopters in the range of three tonnes to 15 tonnes, with a total business of over ₹4 lakh crores over a period of 20 years. In February, HAL inaugurated its new helicopter factory at Tumakuru in Karnataka, which is the largest helicopter manufacturing facility in India and will initially produce the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH). Initially, this factory will produce around 30 helicopters per year which can be enhanced to 60 and then 90 per year in a phased manner, HAL had stated.

The Navy has projected a requirement of over 100 MRH and an earlier global tender for 123 MRH has been dropped. The Navy is currently in the process of inducting 24 MH-60R MRH procured under a $2.2-billion deal with Lockheed Martin signed in February 2020 with deliveries expected to be completed by 2025.