In the aftermath of the VVIP choppergate, even as the armed forces continue to battle age and obsolescence in their Cheetah/Chetak choppers, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is getting ready to scrap off the request for proposal (RfP) for the $1.5-billion deal for 197 light utility helicopters (LUH).
Sources told FE on conditions of anonymity, "If the197 helicopter RfP is cancelled then it will be unfortunate, this is a very compelling requirement as India’s high altitude border posts struggle for adequate support."
"Also, two rounds of trials for these helicopters have already taken place and a substantial amount of money has been spent on the trials. So, by putting the 197 helicopter deal in cold storage means large amount of money has been wasted and to add to this the in house disagreement between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army does not bode well for the modernisations plans of the forces," sources added.
The procurement of 197 light helicopters - to replace the ageing Cheetah/Chetak fleets that undertake patrol, reconnaissance and casualty evacuation missions in forward locations and high-altitude areas like Siachen – too has been dogged by technical deviation complaints.
"The special technical oversight committee (STOC), has cleared the minor deviations detected in the trials conducted between the twin-engine Kamov and the single-engine Eurocopter, holding both met the operational requirements," said a source.
The old designs of the Cheetah/Chetak have consistently proven themselves in high altitude operations, and remain useful as long as their airframes remain safe. The problem is that at their age, the safety margin is very poor.
As reported earlier by FE, recently the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) refused to go ahead with the project on the grounds that the army chief was traveling out of the country. However, sources claim "in the current situation (the VVIP helicopter scam) the government is putting all major deals on hold."
In 2003, India issued an RfP for 197 light helicopters estimating a deal worth between $500-$600 million to buy 60 helicopters outright, with the remaining 137 being built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Eurocopter’s AS550 C3 Fennec and