$2.5-billion mega defence tender for 317 helicopters

New Delhi, Jan 29 | Updated: Jan 30 2008, 04:28am hrs
Close on the heels of floating the biggest ever tender for purchasing126 multi-role combat aircraft, the government on Tuesday said another mega tender was being unrolled for the purchase of 317 helicopters for Army and Air Force, whose cost could run up to $2.5 billion.

A major combined tender would soon be floated for purchase of helicopters for Army and Air Force to replace their ageing fleet of Cheetaks and Cheetahs, defence minister AK Antony said on the sidelines of a function here.

The new request for proposals (RFP) would be in place for the Army tender for 197 helicopters, which was cancelled, a few weeks ago after a vendor, Eurocopter of European Aviation giant EADS, had almost been called for price negotiations.

Antony said, under the new combined tender, 197 helicopters would be acquired for the Army and 120 similar choppers for the Air Force. The requirements of the two services were similar, so we proposed to float a single tender, he said, apparently giving a hint that it could be a single window purchase order.

The tender for helicopters would be the second largest international military tender to be floated by India following an estimated $10 billion RFP for 126 fighters.

Antony indicated that the offset percentage in the deal would also be announced along with the tender. In the earlier instance of 126 fighters, the government had fixed 50% offsets linked to the deal, though the new defence procurement procedure manual 2006 makes it mandatory to have 30% offsets.

Along with Eurocopter, which has expressed its readiness to rebid for the tender, other firms expected to participate in the bid include American aviation giant Textron Corporation, makers of the Bell helicopters, Italian Augusta Westland, and companies from Russia and other countries.

Acknowledging the needs of Army and Air Force, the purchase of helicopters were urgent, the minister, who was speaking after giving away the prizes for technological inventions to personnel from the defence PSUs, said the process of purchase could be taken up on fast-track basis. Army as well as Air Force is currently using Cheetak and Cheetah helicopters for critical operational flying in world's highest battlefield of Siachen and other Himalayan snowy terrain.

These helicopters were inducted in the 1960s and most of them have outlived their flying ceiling. However, as a stop gap measure, some of these helicopters have been upgraded at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd with the help of Orjunal Equipment Manufacturers.