Indian Army chopper order being processed: Antony


New Delhi : The race for an Indian Army order for 197 modern light helicopters in a deal valued at $550 million is wide open, Defence Minister A.K. Antony indicated Tuesday.

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"It is under process," he replied cryptically when asked about reports that the Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fennec had got the nod ahead of its only rival, the Bell-407.

"It is under process. It (the file) has to come to me after which it will go to the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security)," the minister added.

Asked whether there were any "roadblocks" in the way of Eurocopter bagging the order, Antony replied: "I can't say."

The new machines are meant to replace the ageing 1970s-vintage Chetak and Cheetah helicopters of the Indian Army, which plans to modernize and expand its Army Aviation Corps (AAC) to cater for current and future rapid mobility battlefield requirements.

The Indian Army had floated its requirement for the new helicopters in 2004 but revised it to incorporate an offset clause under which 30 percent of the contracted amount would have to be reinvested in the country.

There were five contenders initially in the fray. Apart from Eurocopter and Bell, the others were Italy's Agusta, and Russia's Kamov and Kazan.

The list was then narrowed down to Eurocopter and Bell and both machines were put through extensive trials in hot, humid and high altitude conditions in Rajasthan, Punjab and Kashmir, including in Siachen – the Himalayan battlefield between Indian and Pakistani forces.

Both companies say they will supply 60 helicopters in a flyaway condition while the remaining 137 will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at its Bangalore facility under a transfer of technology (ToT) agreement.