Sunday, June 23, 2024

INS Vikrant Air-Wing To Soar High With Kamov Ka-31 Helicopters!

Aritra Banerjee & Vaibhav Agrawal

Indian Navy’s (IN) recent press release about the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-1 (IAC-1), Vikrant, stated that the vessel can operate an air-wing comprising the Kamov Ka-31 helicopter. The Russian choppers deployed onboard would be the ones already in the IN’s inventory, and not the ones New Delhi is currently negotiating to procure. Yet, the inclusion of the chopper has rekindled an interest in the status of the ongoing Ka-31 procurement deal for the navy.  

Earlier this year, there was concern regarding the deal wherein India was to receive 10 choppers for $520 million. New Delhi gave the contract the go-ahead in 2019. However, the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine obfuscated the process. The latest developments suggest that dialogue regarding the same is ongoing.

Features Of The Ka-31

A radar picket helicopter, Ka-31 can detect surface ships and air targets. Its range of air assets detection includes low-flying targets flying against sea and land backgrounds. The chopper has the ability to track and identify surface ships it detects and relay automatic data transmission to ground and ship-based command and control centres. The timely provision of information about the activities of adversary vessels to ships and aircraft means the helicopter can substantially boost naval and air operations’ efficacy. 

Additionally, Ka-31 (designated ‘Helix’ by NATO) is fitted with a flight control and navigation system. It features onboard communications equipment, too. The support-rotating mechanism of a 6-metre long flat antenna is placed under the transport cabin floor. The antenna sheet constantly rotates at the rate of 6 r/min, enabling the scanning of the space in the horizontal plane. The chopper’s inertial-satellite navigation system enables high target approach accuracy.

Ka-31 can use ground airfields and ships during the day and at night, even in adverse weather conditions. It can also operate in all marine areas of the world. The Ka-31 is claimed to be relatively cost-effective when performing radar picket missions. This comparison is limited to other aircraft with the same/similar purposes. The helicopter touts high safety regarding single-engine flight and landing capability. It is designed for air traffic management and search & rescue operations. Its mobility allows the aircraft to operate from underdeveloped airfields and unprepared sites. 

Powered by the TV3-117VMA engine, the Ka-31 has a maximum speed of 220 km/h, patrolling speed being 100 km/h. The aircraft can carry 2 crews and has a patrolling endurance of 2.5 hours. Its maximum patrolling altitude is 3500 metres.  

India’s Ka-31s

The order for India’s first Ka-31s was placed for the navy in 1999. The helicopters were slated to be deployed onboard INS Viraat and other ships. More orders were placed in the following decade. Reports suggest that IN presently operates a fleet of 14 Ka-31s, reportedly purchased between 2003 to 2015. These choppers have also been sold to China’s navy.

Some Turbulence?

In May 2019, India’s Defence Acquisition Council approved the purchase of 10 more Ka-31 helicopters for the IN. Reportedly, this proposed acquisition would have cost India about Rs. 3,600 crores.

However, the acquisition negotiations were interrupted due to the pandemic and restarted in February 2022. Defense News recently cited an Indian Defence Ministry official saying that the country has suspended talks about the delivery of the helicopters. Growing concern over deliveries and payment hassles in the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis were the stated causes. 

Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based American geopolitical analyst, told IA&D, “it might be true that there were unexpected complications with the deal, but it’s difficult to believe India would pull out of it due to foreign pressure.”

A Russian defence industry source told IA&D that the deal concerning new deliveries is undergoing negotiation with a memorandum of understanding in the works.

Ka-31 Deal Likely To Soar?

Alexander Mikheyev, CEO of the state arms exporter- Rosoboronexport, spoke about the matter at the HeliRussia-2022 helicopter show. He told the media that Russia continues to work with India to deliver Ka-31 deck-based helicopters. 

Rosoboronexport reaffirmed this stance with IA&D in the backdrop of the ARMY-2022 international military-technical forum.


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