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A Tribune Exclusive
Grievous fault grounds Dhruv choppers
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 4
The Indian armed forces have grounded the entire fleet of the much-hyped indigenously developed advanced light helicopter ‘Dhruv’ because of some technical faults in the flying machine, touted as India’s window to the international arms market.

Senior Defence Ministry officials said that the grounding of the multi-purpose helicopter, manufactured by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, by all the three arms of the forces came about 15 days ago following the crash of a helicopter in Hyderabad.

The chopper meant for the Jharkhand government came down near Hyderabad after taking off from Bangalore. A total of over 45 helicopters with the three arms of the Indian military have been put on ground till the technical faults are rectified.

A joint investigating team consisting of officials from the manufacturing company and the three armed forces has been constituted for this purpose.

While the Army Aviation has about 30 Dhruv helicopters in its inventory, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Navy together have about 16. The helicopter is also in regular service of various state governments. Some have also been supplied to Nepal.

Sources in the IAF said their officials have found a major defect in the tail rotor of the helicopter, which also led to the crash in Hyderabad. The tail rotor needs to be strengthened, they said.

The chopper has a bearingless composite tails rotor, which had been designed in a bid to make the craft lighter. Officials said it was not clear by when the choppers would take to air again.

The grounding would come as a major blow to the Hindustan Aeronautics and the DRDO as they were making efforts to market it around the world as the lightest chopper available.

India had also been showcasing the Dhruv in various air shows around the world. Recently it attracted the attention of Israel, which is looking at jointly marketing it. India had also demonstrated the prowess of the chopper to the government of Chile, which showed interest in buying some helicopters.

The Dhruv has remained the Indian trump card, especially at the air show at Bangalore where the IAF had put up a breathtaking performance with the choppers.

The helicopter is designed to meet the requirement of both military and civil operations. The civil variant of the Dhruv carries forward the ruggedness of the military variant. It can carry six passengers in the executive version and 12 in the passenger version.

The HAL has a letter of intent for 300 helicopters from the Indian government and its agencies and has been looking at delivering 24 annually. Some 110 are planned for the Indian Army, 150 for the Air Force, and 40 for the Navy and the Coast Guard together.

The prototype of the Army version was first flown in 1994 and the Army, Navy and the Air Force received the first batch in mid-2002. The military had expressed a need for over a hundred Dhruv helicopters. Half of the Army’s 120 order will be weapons systems integrated, with the remaining serving in its utility and transport wings.


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