The AgustaWestland VVIP helicopters in the Indian Air Force fleet have turned out to be white elephants.
Three AW-101 choppers inducted into the IAF before India terminated the controversial Rs. 3,727 crore contract for 12 helicopters this January have been grounded.
The choppers have been hit by a crisis of spares, after-sales support and maintenance problems after the deal fell through following bribery allegations. The UK-based helicopter manufacturer allegedly paid Rs. 375 crore to middlemen.
“We are waiting for the government’s final decision on what to do with the choppers,” IAF spokesperson Group Captain Gerard Galway told HT. Each AW-101 chopper costs upwards of `250 crore.
AgustaWestland could reach out to the new government but a breakthrough seems unlikely as India is speeding up efforts to encash bank guarantees worth more than Rs. 2,360 crore deposited by the firm to secure the payments already made to it.
With the new government in place, a battery of VVIPs is likely to visit forward areas. But the IAF now faces a dilemma over how it will fly them as its existing VVIP fleet consisting of Russian-made Mi-8 choppers will not be airworthy beyond 2014.
As first reported by HT, the IAF may consider going back to Russia to acquire a new VVIP fleet to replace its ageing Mi-8 choppers.
Choosing Russia as a new vendor will not require tendering, as is normally the case with military purchases. The new deal will be considered a “follow-on” order since India has already booked 139 Mi-17 V5 choppers. This variant can be upgraded for VVIP use.