KUALA LUMPUR: As we wait for the Utility Helicopter Tender to close on Feb 8, one interesting news came out from New Delhi. The Indian Air Force last week conducted trials on the AW101 and the S92. The tender came out in 2006 for a fleet of medium lift and VVIP helicopters to replace the Mi-17s bought some 10 years ago (and here we are on the verge of purchasing Mi-17s for the army , but thats for another day of course).
Whats more interesting about the news story from India is that “The Indian Air Force will buy four $13 million, 30-passenger medium-lift helicopters, plus eight $25 million, 12-person VIP helicopters equipped with state-of-the-art, open-architecture gear for encrypted communications between the prime minister and the president.”.
The price quoted is low, very low. Will they got the orice? and more interestingly whether we will get the same price if the Indians got theirs. The AW101 is the early favourite, its three engines providing the capability to fly into “hot and high condition.
Anyway, with both helicopters finally in the region and most probably showing up in Singapore Aerospace (middle of next month) it will be a matter of note, if they will fly them over here just for a short trial. It may happen soon, even before the Singapore date unless both are disqualified from the tender, which is stupid of course.
I dont think the helicopters will come here before the Feb 8 deadline as the principal would like to find out first whether or not they are still in the running for the programme.
Even if the helicopters are flown here, I do not believe we are set-up to really conduct a proper in-country trials like what the Indians did. Maybe we, with our good relations with the Indian Air Force, could get some data from their trials most importantly on the medium lift, 30 passengers capabilities and the hot and high conditions and the purchase price.
On financial matters, I was told that the money allocated for the programme would allow us to purchase 12 helicopters if we were to purchase either the AW101 or EC725. Perhaps we could get the same numbers from Sikorsky if they reduce the unit price (the Superhawk is more expensive, I presume, since they have not sold that many). Of course for the same allocation, we could buy about 70 Mi-17s or about 30 to 40 Black Hawks (my personal choice).
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I do however wonder if the whole Nuri Replacement tag is a bit of a red herring. 12 aircraft, no doubt considerably more capable if AW101 is selected is simply insufficient to fulfill both the RMAF’s CSAR mission and the the more humble utility lift mission. If we assume that at least 2 aircraft are required in RMAF Butterworth, Gong Kedak, Kuantan, Labuan and Subang respectively, that leaves a whole 2 aircraft for training/conversion and as gap fillers in the maintenance schedule. That leaves literally no airframes to perform utility and service co-operation missions without an adverse effect on SAR cover.
Given the penchant for Government officials to use RMAF helicopters for ‘official business’, there’s just no way to square this circle.
If all the aircraft are procured ‘fully gilt’ with all the geegaws for CSAR, they are going to be horribly expensive for something to ferry YBs around.
I believe that the current process of devolving rotary wing capabilities into the individual service branches to be a retrograde step driven service rivalries. The net result is higher operational and infrastructure overheads and reduced availability/capability. We should be following the UK example of establishing a Joint Helicopter Force to support tri-service and national needs rather than fragmenting into small, almost worthless branch-specific entities.
Having spent much of the last 2 decades trying to get out of the ‘pemandu bas’ business, the RMAF is making a huge mistake by not cementing its position as the primary provider of rotary lift for government and military needs by leading a Joint command.
As I feel 12 helicopters to be too few to meet the needs of the nation, I do not believe that we need 12 aircraft fitted out for the CSAR mission. Simply put, that is a 95% mission for which you pay an enormous premium. The day to day SAR and utility mission simply do not require stuff like RWRs, MLWRs, armor, ESM and search radar. All you really need is a simple FLIR, weather radar and a hoist winch.
The gilding would however be suitable for a dedicated CSAR/Special Ops outfit like the 160th SOAR. This would of course only make sense if the various Special Operations entities currently distributed through the services are grouped together a SOCOM style command.
Agree with the joint helicopter force – or at least a single platform to fulfil the 3 services needs.