The BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi-headed Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has criticised the Ministry of Defence over delays in the purchase and induction of Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) to replace the Indian Air Force’s vintage Chetak and Cheetah choppers.
In a report presented recently in Parliament, the PAC said the ministry showed no sense of urgency either to finalise the manufacture of the LUHs by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) or to fast-track their procurement from abroad.
This indictment comes at a time when the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) is seized of a joint Army-Air Force proposal to buy 197 LUHs from either the European Eurocopter or Russian Kamov. The DAC may even cancel a July, 2008 tender, in which Eurocopter had fielded its AS550-C3 and Kamov its Ka-226 helicopters. The third competitor, Italian firm AgustaWestland, was approached by a serving Brigadier seeking bribes to keep it in contention for the `15,000 contract. AgustaWestland, in trouble over bribery allegations in the `3,546-crore VVIP chopper deal, was ultimately eliminated from the LUH tender process in the initial stages of trials. Indian efforts to buy replacements for its Chetaks and Cheetahs have remained jinxed since the first tender was floated in 2003. The tender had to be cancelled in December 2007 after discrepancies were found in the helicopter that Eurocopter had fielded for the trials.
Of the 197 flying machines, the IAF would get 64 to replace its 75-helicopter Chetak and Cheetah fleets. The IAF component of the contract would be worth `5,000 crore. The PAC noted, in an Action Taken Report, that the ministry had informed it over a year ago that the IAF would get a total of 125 LUHs, of which 64 would be bought from abroad and the rest 61 manufactured by HAL. However, the ministry informed the PAC that the HAL component of the fleet was still at the design and development stage and the defence PSU is in the process of procuring a suitable engine through a global tender.
The PAC said there was a delay in the LUH induction process, “despite knowing well that the IAF helicopter pilots are being deprived of the latest avionics with flight control systems and other state-of-the-art features”.
The panel also noted that training pilots on outdated copters would deprive them of modern skills and “seriously jeopardise” India’s air capability in competing with advanced nations.
“Further, such a delay would also incapacitate the IAF in handling emergency and relief and rescue operations in future, thereby compromising the security of the nation,” it added.
The IAF and the Army require a total of 384 LUHs. Since HAL had claimed it could deliver an indigenous LUH to the forces, the ministry asked it to supply 187 LUHs to the two forces. The Navy too floated a `4,000 crore tender in August last year for procuring 56 LUHs to replace its Chetak fleet.