I did recently look into the prices for helicopters - for example the very expensive NH90 TTH and as low-cost helicopters the Indian HAL Druv and the old Bell 412EP.
My initial prejudice was that the new helicopters are (NH90) are too expensive for their performance.
Well, it turned out that their price may be justified by the raw published specs in comparison to Western alternative designs. The NH90 offers a good payload (in weight), high speed and greater abilities in difficult conditions.
That's a very superficial guesstimate, though. A complete comparison of such hardware would yield a study of 100+ pages and include findings about details such as the hardening of fuel lines .
There's still an unpleasant feeling about these high tech helicopters. Air transport is usually not that much limited by payload (in tons) as it is by cabin area and seats.
We could buy a larger fleet of AB412EP and would obviously end up with a larger troop transport capacity in terms of a "(men * distance) / 24 hrs" metric.
Quantity is also a quality in its own right; a few losses can seriously impair a small high-performance fleet (think of the Atlantic Conveyor in the Falklands War which sunk with three of only four Chinook helicopters of the invasion force).
A NH90 is on the other hand quite obviously more survivable than a AB412EP in a 1:1 comparison - this is an amplified advantage in small wars.
The old Bell 412EP has furthermore a very maintenance-intensive rotor head design (outdated for decades) that would probably be replaced with a better one (elastomeric bearings as in NH90) if the helicopter was procured by an Army like the German one.
The same applies to the Mi-17; both Cold War classics are nevertheless prime examples for proven & relatively low-cost tactical transport helicopters. I would without hesitation advise armies to buy such models if they don't pursue a high-tech strategy as do forces of rich nations.
Let me lift a quote from Wikipedia:
Flight International quotes the Thai army’s rationale: “We are buying three Mi-17 helicopters for the price of one Black Hawk. The Mi-17 can also carry more than 30 troops, while the Black Hawk could carry only 13 soldiers. These were the key factors behind the decision.”
...and the Black Hawk isn't even an example of the priciest, latest helicopter generation!
- - - - -
There IS a problem, though: HAL Druv, Mi-17, Bell 412EP - these aren't really low-cost helicopters. Their price is still in the millions. These designs are merely low-tech by today's standards.
The true low-cost helicopters are in the six-digit range - such as the Robinson R44 (you can buy more than 30 R44 for the price of one NH90!).
We've become so accustomed to orthodox military helicopters that the thought of an R44 as a useful military helicopter has become "strange". You might have that feeling as well and look at the twice as expensive, higher performance R66 instead. It's still a bargain.
A look at the Bell 47 can ease the unpleasant feeling as well: It evacuated 21,000 WIA soldiers as MedEvac helicopter in Korea and meant the breakthrough for helicopters in military service. The R44 is actually much more capable than a Bell 47.
You don't need more than an R44 equivalent for many liaison flights, for observing a brigade's road march from the air, for MedEvac (unless you insist on luxury MedEvac with on-board medical facilities and care).
The R44 is actually expensive in performance/price terms in comparison to a Mi-17, but several R44 equivalents instead of one Mi-17 have the invaluable ability to be at several locations at once. A small fleet of Mi-17 would often fly with few payload & passengers and waste much of its potential and it might be unresponsive if many small missions are deemed necessary at the same time.
- - - - -
Sure, the luxury of the NH90's extra performance is tasty - and maybe a high/low mix would be advisable. You wouldn't want to MedEvac with a R44 equivalent at night, for example. On the other hand NH90 would never be able to provide affordable general MedEvac support in a full-out war and it requires a larger clearing for landing.
I fail generally to see how a NH90 could provide more bang for the buck than a Mi-17 at daylight. This inability is in my opinion a hint that the design is a poor, gold-plated one (although the Mi-17 has high operating costs and benefits of low wages in Russia).
The all-high-end strategy in military helicopter procurement looks ill-advised to me. We can never get enough helicopters for the job like that - unless we ignore the primary defence job of collective self-defence and are only concerned about small & stupid wars in distant places.
(NH90 photo copyright see here.)