Lockheed begins construction of US presidential choppers in India

New Delhi, Oct 20 (IANS) Construction of the first lot of six VH 92 Super Hawk helicopters that transport the US president has begun in India.

The new generation helicopter is based on the Sikorsky S-92, whose cabin, some other parts and wire harnesses are made only in India in collaboration with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) at Hyderabad. Work on the cabins, the initial building blocks for the VVIP helicopters, began recently at this facility, according to a report by India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in).

The VH variant is a much advanced version of the civilian S-92 rotorcraft or its military version, the H-92 with more powerful twin engines, fly-by-wire systems and highly advanced communication and electronic warfare (EW) protection suites. The US president is perhaps the most protected person in the world, and appropriately, the Tata-made aluminum and metal cabin may be reinforced with Kevlar and strong composite materials.

Precise details are nearly impossible to get, and even timelines for the presidential aircraft are never disclosed.

In any case, all the fittings are to be done in the US itself, and what is delivered when and where is also determined there. In a couple of years though, after harsh tests and trials, the next US president may take off from the White House in one of these India-made cabins.

TASL makes 48 cabins a year, and which six of these cabins are selected for the VVIP helicopters will be decided by experts from the US Secret Sevice, the Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin in the US itself.

The presidential helicopter fleet is maintained by the US Marine Corps and any machine that the head of the state boards gets the call-sign Marine One. At least five of these aircraft travel with the President wherever he goes, even when abroad. He stays connected with his office through satellites or connectivity by other systems irrespective of wherever he is.

Sikorsky had won the $1.24 billion deal in May 2014 to develop and build six new generation VVIP configuration machines, with the number going up gradually to 23 over the next few years and their value going up to an estimated $3 billion.

The project envisaged cooperation with Lockheed Martin for onboard protection and communication suites. Its financial component is to be additional for all the space-age gizmos and tech suites that it will put on board those machines.

Signnificantly, Lockheed is now in command and control of all of Sikorsky’s famed flying machines as only recently, it acquired the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation from United Technologies Corporation (UTC).

Lockheed Martin is the world’s biggest military systems’ giant, and the TASL project is now part of its own very impressive portfolio.

Notably, when Sikorsky won the deal for the VH-92, it was described as the world’s most advanced executive transport helicopter by its president, Mick Maurer.

Sikorsky has been flying US presidents since 1957, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower. The current versions that the president flies in are designated VH-3D and VH-69, based on the older generation of Sikorsky machines.

It may be recalled that the Tata-Sikorsky (76:24) venture had rolled out is first cabin in 2010, about a year after the assembly line was shifted from Japan to India. Reliable sources told India Strategic that by now, tens of these cabins have been exported to the US for completion and deployment globally as required.

The construction of the VIP configuration variant incidentally is an example of how UTC initiated a venture in India with an eye on the future for the company and a vision for the growing US-India Strategic relations. This, in fact, has often been emphasized by Sikorsky’s India and South Asia Managing Director Air Vice Marshal A.J.S. Walia (retd).

The spacious S-92 is already being used for VIP travel in some countries, and is also on offer to India for both government and civilian roles.

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