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Why Did Indian Air Force Opt For Chinook Heavy-Lift Helicopters While Key Ally Israel Overlooked Them?

Israel has decided to acquire Lockheed Martin’s CH-53K King Stallion over Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters. In the light of this move, one might wonder why India is betting heavily on the Chinook helicopters?

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India has purchased a total of 15 Chinook helicopters from the US defense and aerospace giant Boeing last year. The last five of the choppers were handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in Chandigarh, just before India imposed a nationwide lockdown owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Boeing helicopters arrived in the country through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, after a contract was agreed between the governments of India and the United States.

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India, which had relied on a small fleet of Russian-built Mi-26 heavy transport helicopters, opted for the Chinook to expand the fleet of heavy-lift helicopters.

Developed by American rotorcraft company Vertol and manufactured by Boeing Vertol, which later came to be known as Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, the CH-47 Chinook is an American twin-engine, tandem-rotor, heavy-lift helicopter, capable of airlifting diverse military and non-military loads into remote locations.

Chinook-Stallion
CH-53K helicopter

Given its capabilities, there had been speculation that Israel would go for Chinook. But the Israeli Air Force had decided to purchase the CH-53K King Stallion on February 25.

The helicopters, manufactured by Sikorsky, now a division of Lockheed Martin, will not replace Israel’s existing CH-53 type, also known as ‘Yasur’.

The decision to purchase the choppers made Israel Defense Forces or IDF, the first foreign military to buying the CH-53K helicopters.

The advantage of the King Stallion is that it can perform a wide range of operational roles. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the Stallion choppers could “adapt to the operational requirements of the Israeli Air Force and to the challenges of the changing battlefield”.

The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift cargo helicopter is currently being produced by Lockheed Martin for the US Marine Corps (USMC).

The design of the modern choppers features three 7,500 shp (5,590 kW) engines, new composite rotor blades, and a wider aircraft cabin than previous CH-53 variants.

While there is a lack of clarity on how many helicopters the Israel Air Force (IAF) is expected to receive, reports suggest the number could be between 20 and 25.

Why Did India Buy Chinook?

India had opted for the advanced H-47 Chinook multi-mission helicopters as it felt that the choppers would provide the Indian Air Force with unmatched strategic airlift capability across the full spectrum of combat and humanitarian missions.

With the Chinooks having a history of being used by the US Army and by the militaries of more than 19 countries around the world, New Delhi felt its high reputation was definitely worth taking into consideration.

In terms of features, the helicopter possesses a fully-integrated glass cockpit for mission management, a digital advanced flight control system to enhance aircrew safety, and advanced cargo-handling capabilities which enable aircrews to swiftly and conveniently shift from missions.

It allows them to change from moving cargo during missions to transporting people, vehicles, and other material at hand.

The choppers come with a payload capability of 10 tons and high-altitude performance, suiting the heavy-lift capability requirements of the IAF.

Apart from that, the helicopters also come in handy in providing support in the construction of infrastructure and border road projects especially in the Northeast region of the country.

According to Boeing, the helicopters allow customers like India to operate the choppers in “climatic (hot), altitude (high), and crosswind conditions”.

“Those innovations and technologies will help the Indian Air Force meet evolving mission demands, maximize interoperability, and reduce life-cycle costs,” as per a Boeing statement.

Chinooks vs Stallion

However, when the Indian Chinooks are compared with the Stallion choppers being acquired by Israel, the King Stallion has a notably greater load-carrying capacity than the latest variants of the CH-47, with the Sikorsky (Lockheed) chopper’s payload reaching a maximum of 35,000 lb (15,900 kg).

Chinook vs Stallion: Why Did Israel Overlook Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook For Lockheed’s CH-53K King Stallion Helicopter?

In terms of engines, the Chinook has two engines while the King Stallion has three. However, according to reports, Boeing is now testing a version of the Chinook with the same powerful T408 engines found on the Sikorsky chopper.

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