Around 100 naval helicopters of American, British, French, Indian and Russian provenance are thought to be in service with the IN, although a majority of these are old, having entered service over 20 or even 30 years ago. While they have received minor upgrades, the rotary-wing force needs a thorough revamping.
The primary multirole strike helicopter is the Agusta Westland Sea King Mk. 42B, with 17 in service. They are operated by two squadrons: INAS 330 “Harpoons” at NAS Shikra in Mumbai and INAS 336 “Flaming Arrows” – the Sea King OCU/training unit –at NAS Garuda in Kochi. A major upgrade program – with new avionics, new mission system, and a new AshM – has been in the planning stages for several years.
The Sea Kings are supplemented by 10 Ka-28 ASW helicopters operated by INAS 333 “Eagles” from NAS Dega. These are to be upgraded by Russia’s Rosoboronexport with Selex’s ATOS mission system and Seaspray 7300e AESA radar, although a contract is yet to be announced. Four new Ka-28s, part of a package to equip the Vikramaditya’s air wing, may have entered service by now.
Eyes in the Sky
Airborne Early Warning (AEW) is provided by around 14 Kamov Ka-31 AEW helicopters operated by INAS 339 “Falcons” based at NAS Hansa. Fitted with the powerful OKO radar, the Ka-31 provides a radar feed encompassing a search area of around 190,000 square kilometers to networked ships and aircraft via datalinks.
They typically operate from the Project 1135.6 frigates and the Viraat. Because of their unique coaxial rotor arrangement (and required vertical clearances), Kamovs cannot be hangared aboard the Viraat.
Around four dozen license built, French origin SA-316/319 Alouette III (known locally as Chetak) single-engined helicopters perform a myriad of roles, including utility, transport, SAR and armed overwatch. Chetaks are operated by INAS 321, which has a flight at every naval air station (NAS) as well as shipborne flights. Chetaks also equip the helicopter training squadron, INAS 561.
Eight indigenous Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) built by HAL serve with 321 ALH Flight, primarily in the SAR role. This flight will soon become INAS 322. At one time, it was hoped that the twin-engine ALH would fulfill several roles, such as ASW and SAR, but HAL’s inability to devise a rotor folding mechanism coupled with wholly unrealistic naval staff requirements meant that further acquisitions of the 5.5-ton naval variant were cancelled.
Special operations forces transports comprise six Westland Sea King Mk. 42C with the Marine Commando Flight (MCF) “Zappers” at NAS Shikra and INAS 336 as well as six ex-USN Sikorsky UH-3H with INAS 350 “Saras” at NAS Dega. They are also employed in a secondary SAR role.