EADS backs out of 22 attack helicopters contract, wont give machines for trials

Written by Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Oct 30 2009, 04:57am hrs
Eurocopter, the helicopter-manufacturing unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co (EADS), which had pitched its Tiger attack helicopter for the tender of 22 attack helicopters, has decided to stay away from the contract. The company has also expressed its inability to field its machines for trials of the heavy lift machines. The contract for 22 attack helicopters is approximately worth $600 million.

According to highly placed industry sources, Eurocopter will not participate in the attack helicopter tender because the Tiger HAD, that is to be fielded for the trials, is in its last stage of development and will not be ready by mid-2010 (as scheduled).

However, if the trials were to happen in late 2010, they will be able to participate. The European helicopter company has submitted to the MoD a document explaining the reasons in detail and have also clarified that the product is fully compliant with the requirements of the request for proposal (RFP), sources said.

It maybe recalled that India had re-tendered for the attack helicopters, allegedly, to accommodate the US companies, which had previously withdrawn from the earlier tender.

This is the second time the country has issued a tender for attack helicopters. The RFP for attack helicopters from foreign vendors has a chequered history with proposals from three suppliers being rejected earlier, as they failed to conform to specifications laid out in an RFP issued on May 23, 2008. When a technical evaluation of the proposals revealed lack of compliance, the RFP was withdrawn on March 9, 2009 and a fresh RFP issued on May 25, 2009.

Earlier, there were five contenders including Textrons Bell Helicopter unit, the AgustaWestland AW149 a unit of Finmeccanica SpA, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Eurocopter Tiger HAP and Mil Mi-28.

However, the countrys requirement for direct commercial purchase left Bell and Boeing stumped as their products were available on a government-to-government basis, because of the weapons content, through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. Getting FMS clearance meant missing the tight tender deadline, so the two US manufacturers decided not to bid.In August this year, US-based Bell Helicopters withdrew the AH-1Z Super Cobra for a $600 million tender for attack helicopters in India.

Although Bell did consider offering its AH-1Z, we will be declining the opportunity to participate in the [request for proposal] process because the AH-1Z has not yet completed its operational evaluation process with the US Navy, the company release had said.

But with the withdrawal of the Eurocopter and the Bell Company, just three contenders, are left for the attack helicopters deal.

The Indian Air Force plans to sign a contract for 22 helicopters in 2011 and complete deliveries by 2014. The IAF wants the helicopters to be operational in all weather, day and night, and be able to function in desert and mountainous terrain. The first two helicopters would be supplied within 24 months of signing of the contract, with final delivery within 36 months.

Also, Eurocopter, which had earlier pitched Fennec AS 550 C3 for Indias tender for 197 aircraft under the reconnaissance and surveillance helicopter (RSH) programme is likely to pull out.

Sources said, The RSH summer trials originally scheduled for May 2009 have now been delayed to summer 2010. This, of course, is a major issue for the armed forces who are desperate for equipment. The Italian Augusta Westland, Eurocopter and the Russians were the short listed bidders. But the fact is that only Eurocopter and Augusta Westland have products that can be fielded. The Russians do not have a product and this can be one of the reasons for the delay in the trials and withdrawing from the race.

The RSH requirement is a joint Army and Air Force one, and the Fennec would be delivered armed with 2.75-inch rocket pods and a 20-mm FN Herstal machine gun, company executives said.

Trials for hot temperature and high altitude on the RSH and attack procurements were expected to be held this year, but now have been delayed until next year. Eurocopter has also been in talks with HAL for about a year on co developing and producing a multi-role aircraft in the 10-12-metric-tonne class, but it was still early in the design stages.