Sales stopped after a 2009 crash, negotiation is on for increased pricing .
NEW DELHI - The biggest customer of the indigenously made Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv outside the Indian armed forces is Ecuador, with which India is negotiating price for further orders after supplying the initial five helicopters, after which there has been no movement especially after one crashed in 2009. India has sold surveillance helicopters to Ecuador, not the weaponised combat ones.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is the manufacturer of the helicopters, and after the ALH sold to the Ecuadorian Air Force crashed in October 2009, the process slowed India's plans of exporting these home-made choppers. The order was for seven aircraft for 50 million dollars in 2008, out of which five were delivered. HAL has an office in Ecuador. Inquiries showed that the crash was due to the pilot's error, after which the Bangalore-based Helicopter Academy to Train by Simulation of Flying (HATSOFF) decided to train Ecuadorian Air Force pilots, to prepare them for emergencies.
After Ecuador got its helicopters under the first order in 2008, the price of the helicopter has gone up from $8 million per piece to $12 million per piece. The increased price is because of upgradation. The negotiation is about the pricing.
The Ecuadorian defence attaché in Delhi is in talks with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The Indian defence attaché in Chile, who also looks after Ecuador is discussing from the Indian side. The earlier Ecuadorian requirement of seven choppers has not yet been fulfilled, and there is a further requirement of more choppers, said a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) source. Also last year a defence delegation from Ecuador visited India to discuss the matter.
An MEA source told this newspaper, "Indian armed forces' requirements are so huge, which HAL finds difficult to meet. Only after that they'll be in a position to export."
Other countries that have imported these helicopters, though in small numbers, are Israel and Nepal, while Surinam and Turkey have also shown interest.
Another Latin American country which showed interest in the chopper was Chile. But HAL's ALH Dhruv lost the contract to American Bell Helicopter, a Textron Inc. company, to provide 12 helicopters to the Chilean Air Force in 2008, before which Bell had been disqualified by India for a contract to replace its Chetaks and Cheetahs in the Indian Army on technical grounds based on trials in Leh in 2006. An MEA source said that there has been no word from Chile after that.
The Indian Army has three squadrons of the ALH, in Manasbal, Nasik and Bangalore and there is plan of having one operational squadron in high altitude area comprising the weaponised Dhruv.
The French missile-making company MBDA has conducted successful tests of Dhruv's weaponisation by testing its Mistral twin-tube missile in Leh. Four such packs would be mounted on the chopper. The indigenous DRDO too has developed Helina missile for the helicopter, for which launchers have been cleared.
Two TM 333 2B2 engines power the helicopter, but HAL has been trying to fly it with the new, indigenous and more powerful Shakti engine.The operational validation of the ALH had been completed in 2009, with the new Shakti engine.Asian Defence News