$1.5-bn chopper deal may not take off

Written by Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 22 2012, 09:24am hrs
Indias wait for light utility choppers just got a bit longer. After numerous field trials, the much-anticipated $1.5-billion deal for 197 light utility helicopters is facing cancellation for the second time.

After studying the Technical Oversight Committee report, it emerged that the bidders did not meet the specifications of the two forces and (the deal) is expected to be aborted due to inconsistencies, highly-placed sources told FE. The two options before the IAF were the European Eurocopter and the Russian Kamov.

The deal was scrapped for the first time in 2007 after discrepancies were noted in the process and a new tender was floated. The acquisition of LUHs, which has been delayed for over four years now, is crucial for the Indian Army and the IAF as they aim to replace the ageing fleet of Cheetah/ Chetak choppers procured in the 1970s. Out of the 197 choppers, over 130 will go to the army and the remaining will be operated by the IAF.

Earlier this year, Eurocopter, which is competing with AS 350 Fennec chopper, had written to the army chief to clarify the time frame and speed up the acquisition process.

Eurocopter indicated that the technical evaluation process has taken over 38 months and not come up with a decision yet. The trials of the two helicopters, Eurocopters AS 350 Fennec and Russias Kamov 226 Sergei, were completed in December 2010 and the reports were submitted to the defence ministry in 2011.

The second tender was issued in 2008 but this also ran into rough weather after an anonymous letter received by the defence ministry alleged roles of arm dealers in the contract. The acquisition process of 197 LUHs will still take a long time as the next step in the process is opening of the commercial bids of the two contenders in the fray. Following that, a commercial negotiation committee will be constituted to negotiate with the lowest bidder, which will also be a time-consuming affair.

Sources confirmed "both the Eurocopter's Fennec and its competitor, the Russian Kamov Ka-226T, have not completely met the specifications. However, a technical panel has studied the deviations and made certain recommendations to the MoD. The decisions made have not been accepted by the Defence Acquisition Council, said the sources.