HAL, Safran seal Indian helicopter engine pact but questions remain over size of market
France’s Safran Helicopter Engines and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) recently signed a formal workshare agreement for joint development of a turboshaft helicopter engine.
The powerplant is intended for use on the future 13t Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) and its naval counterpart the Deck Based Multi-Role Helicopter (DBMRH).
The IMRH is being developed to meet Indian requirements for a multi-role helicopter for the army, navy and air force, and is expected to replace the Russian Mi-8 and Mi-17 in service.
A mock-up of the design was displayed at Aero India 2017, with HAL announcing in February 2019 that preliminary design work had been completed.
Two years later, at Aero India 2021, HAL announced that the design of IMRH had finished at ‘architectural level’. At Aero India 2023, HAL displayed a scale model of the helicopter and stressed that its development was continuing, along with discussions with the armed forces regarding operational requirements.
The Safran workshare agreement was also signed during the event and follows an earlier MoU of 8 July 2022. HAL will take part in design, development and production of core engine components, described as a first for Indian industry.
We are confident of making the engine meet the highly stringent and demanding requirements of Indian defence customers.— HAL’s chairman and MD Shri C B Ananthakrishnan.
India has historically struggled to develop engines for its aircraft programmes, as witnessed by the travails of the Kaveri turbofan intended to power large UAVs and cruise missiles.
HAL’s chairman and MD Shri C B Ananthakrishnan commented at the time: ‘The joint development of a high-power engine is a new milestone in HAL’s ever-growing capabilities in the sector with a competent partner like Safran Helicopter Engines.
'We are confident of making the engine meet the highly stringent and demanding requirements of Indian defence customers.’
While no details of the turboshaft’s specifications were released, an aircraft of the IMRH’s size (18.7m long with a similar rotor diameter) would require twin engines in the 2,500-3,000hp class.
Shephard Defence Insight lists 223 Mi-8/17 aircraft in service with Indian military operators, but no indication has been given by the Indian MoD as to the likely size of any IMRH/DBMRH orders.
A number of the type are also operated by law enforcement and other government agencies. India intends to replace its Mi-8/17 fleets from 2028, according to a 2021 HAL briefing.
Safran and HAL said the engine could also potentially power other helicopter designs. Another element of the agreement transfers rights to HAL for manufacturing additional parts for the Shakti engine powering the Dhruv and Light Combat Helicopter aircraft, increasing the level of indigenous content.
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