Aero India 2017: Bell pitches 429 to Indian Navy



Bell has brought a navalised version of its 429 helicopter to Aero India in Bangalore to demonstrate its qualities to the Indian Navy (IN).The IN has released a series of RfIs to gather information about replacement options for its current and elderly fleet of Sea Kings and Chetaks. A formal RfP has not yet appeared, but Bell anticipates one could appear ‘in the not-too-distant future’. 

Chad Sparks, Bell Helicopter’s director of strategic campaigns and business development, informed Shephard of the benefits the 429 would bring the IN for search-and-rescue, anti-surface warfare and utility missions from both shipborne and land-based locations. With around 100 naval helicopters needing replacement, this future requirement is extensive. Of course, Bell will face stiff competition from competitors such as Airbus. 

India does not currently fly any Bell military rotorcraft. In the demonstrator shown in Bangalore, a multi-mission system is installed in the left side of the cockpit for a tactical weapons officer/co-pilot, while an electro-optical sensor was fitted under the nose. The latter was an Elbit Systems/Bharat Electronics Limited sensor, illustrating Bell’s willingness to support the government’s ‘Make in India’ policy.

 The demonstrator featuring wheeled landing gear was also fitted with mock-ups of survivability equipment (e.g. missile warning receiver and chaff dispenser) plus a rescue hoist and TrakkaBeam searchlight. A search radar would also be standard. Bell also offers kits for folding rotor blades. The naval 429 with a maximum take-off weight of approximately 3,400kg can carry six passengers, or two litters or a full load of cargo. Via a tie-up with Tata Advanced Systems forged last July, Bell Helicopter is strengthening its support network. This would offer advantages to the IN and the other armed services should it adopt the type. Sparks also highlighted commonality with commercial 429 platforms already operating in India as another benefit. IN personnel will be flown in the 429 during Aero India to give them their first experience of Bell’s offering. Sparks said the navalised 429 was being offered to India as it was a more cost-effective option than the UH-1Y Venom. Sparks said the 429 would be well suited to future Indian Coast Guard requirements too, as would the 525. 

Bell Helicopter also took the opportunity presented by Aero India to promote the 407 for an Indian Army light surveillance requirement. Even further down the track, the V-22 or even the V-280 could find applicability for special forces and/or disaster relief missions. Bell envisions ‘real opportunities’ across the full spectrum of EMS, tourism, utility, VIP and law enforcement sectors in India too, although it sees a particular need to facilitate and foster the EMS sector. 

There are currently 82 civilian Bell rotorcraft flying in India, with the 407 being the most numerous type. This figure equates to almost a third of the 300 or so commercial helicopters currently operating in the country. Bell Helicopter has a relationship with Dynamatic Technologies that dates back to 2014, and this has resulted in more than 50 helicopter cabins being delivered. Indeed, Dynamatic is set to become the sole supplier of 407 cabins as part of Bell’s global supply chain.

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