VVIP choppers: IAF to upgrade medium-lift Mi-17s

By Gulshan Luthra,

New Delhi : Following the cancellation of a deal for 12 VVIP helicopters in the wake of bribery allegations, the Indian Air Force (IAF) will modify a few of its Mi series of medium-lift machines – the Mi-17 V5 – to fill in, but “only as an interim measure”.

Support TwoCircles

According to the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, a case has been initiated in consultation with the agencies concerned for “safe and efficient conduct of VVIP operations.” As the Special Protection Group (SPG) is responsible for the security of the prime minister, technical specifications are drawn up in consultation with its top officers.

“The IAF has initiated a case in consultation with the agencies concerned for modifying a few Mi series helicopters for the safe and efficient conduct of VVIP operations. However, this is only an interim measure,” he told India Strategic
defence magazine in an interview published in the magazine’s Farnborough Air Show edition.

The IAF had concluded a 560 million euros ($827 million) deal with the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland for 12 AW 101 helicopters in 2010. Later, Italian investigators probing political bribes in Italy found evidence of Finmeccanica, the main holder of AgustaWestland, having generated 51 million euros as bribes.

Investigations are on in both Italy and India to determine the money trail to find out who got how much and where, but in accordance with the Integrity Pact in the contract with the company, the Indian government cancelled the deal. Around $400 million worth of bank guarantees given by the company against payment by India for three helicopters and some training are being encashed following the court proceedings in Italy.

The IAF’s Communication Squadron, which flies the VVIPs and top military and civil officers, has meanwhile grounded and mothballed the three machines. AgustaWestland has been asked to take them back, but it has initiated arbitration proceedings.

The current inventory of eight Soviet-vintage quarter century-plus old Mi-8s is somehow being maintained but IAF has given repeated warnings to replace them with
modern rotorcraft which can have bulletproof cabins, flare dispensers, secure wireless/satellite communications, missile warning systems and some level of defence against Electronic Warfare (EW) systems.

(Gulshan Luthra can be contacted at [email protected])