Re-tender Indian Army chopper order, US urges


New Delhi : The US would like an Indian Army order for 197 modern light helicopters in a deal valued at $550 million to be re-tendered as an American manufacturer had been knocked out of the race on technical grounds, a senior military officer said Saturday.

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“Our ambassador (David Mulford) discussed the issue with your (defence) minister (A.K. Antony). The company (Bell Helicopters) is ready to play a role in a fair and open process,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler, director of the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency, told reporters here.

The Bell-407 was engaged in stiff competition with the Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fennec for the army order. After extensive trials in the deserts of Rajasthan and the icy Himalayan heights of Jammu and Kashmir, the US machine was disqualified as its winch, a vital piece of equipment, had not been certified by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) at the time it had submitted its bid, reports earlier this year said.

Bell’s plea that this certification had been obtained before the trials ended had fallen on deaf ears, the reports added.

“The Indian side has raised questions. We are waiting to see if there is any change in the Indian side. The company would be happy to bring its machine again if the competition is open, fair and transparent,” Kohler maintained.

Antony had indicated earlier this week that the race for the army order was wide open.

“It is under process,” he replied cryptically Tuesday when asked about reports that the Eurocopter had got the nod ahead of 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 modernise and expand its Army Aviation Corps (AAC) to cater to 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.

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