More Trouble for Army's Light Utility Chopper Deal
NEW DELHI: The Armed Forces’ bid to replenish its fast-depleting fleet of Chetak and Cheetah light utility helicopters is again getting into trouble, this time due to expiry of offers from two helicopter manufacturers in a Rs 500-crore tender for 197 choppers.
European consortium Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter) and Russia’s Kamov are in the race for the contract that is not going to be restricted to the first lot of 197 choppers, of which the Army will get 133 and the Air Force 64.
According to sources in the Ministry of Defence, the commercial offers submitted by the two companies in 2008 are once again slated to expire by the end of this month.
The commercial offers from Airbus Helicopters, which changed its brand name from Eurocopter earlier this year, and Kamov have previously been extended half-a-dozen times since 2008.
The Airbus Helicopters have pitched its AS 550 C3 Fennec helicopter and Kamov its Ka-226T Sergei as their offering in the tender.
Interestingly, the present tender issued in 2008 is the second attempt to procure a suitable light utility helicopter to augment the already depleting fleet of 140 Chetak and Cheetah helicopters.
The Chetak and Cheetah, which are several decades old and have attained critical levels of obsolescence, carry supplies for military personnel posted in the inhospitable Siachen Glacier and unreachable spots in the upper reaches of the Himalayas.
The present tender, issued after the first one issued in 2003 was cancelled after Eurocopter was selected winner in 2007, after complaints over the discrepancies in the procurement procedure adopted at the winning firm’s end landed with then Defence Minister A K Antony.
This tender is now already stuck for two years over procedural delays. Last year, the procurement process got stalled for no fault of the two firms.
It was emerged in the middle of 2013 that Italian investigators probing allegations of corruption in defence major Finmeccanica stumbled upon a letter written by an arms middleman that a serving Indian Army Brigadier had sought a Rs 25-crore bribe from officials of its subsidiary AgustaWestland to ensure favourable results in the technical evaluation done on their helicopter on offer.
Though AgustaWestland got eliminated at the evaluation stage itself, the supposed allegation of bribery demand from a serving Army officer, who was part of the team that tested the helicopters, led to the Ministry of Defence under Antony putting the procurement process on hold and ordering a CBI probe into the matter.