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A bribery scandal involving aero engines threatens to cast a shadow over several key air force programmes.
The defence ministry has asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe bribery allegations against British engineering company Rolls-Royce in connection with contracts to supply aircraft engines to state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
The agency will investigate all contracts the firm signed with HAL during 2007-11, an official said.
The development could have serious implications for the military’s Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT) programme, as the contracts relate to supplying Adour Mk871 engines for AJTs being built under-licence by HAL.
If charges are proved and the firm is eventually blacklisted, there could be implications for other projects too. Rolls-Royce engines also power the IAF’s C 130J Super Hercules special operations aircraft, Jaguar strike fighters and Embraer luxury jets for VVIPs. Roll-Royce could not be reached for comments.
India has inked separate contracts worth more than Rs 15,000 crore with aerospace major BAE Systems for 123 AJTs. The air force plans to induct 106 AJTs (60-plus already in service), while the remaining are to be assigned to the navy. Only 24 AJTs were supplied by BAE Systems in ‘flyaway condition.’
The Hawks have simplified pilot training by serving as a bridge between subsonic trainers and supersonic fighters such as Sukhoi-30 MKI, Mirage 2000 and Jaguar that combat pilots finally fly.
Defence minister AK Antony has ordered the CBI probe weeks after arms dealer Sudhir Choudhrie and his son Bhanu were arrested in the UK for their alleged involvement in a kickback scandal involving Rolls-Royce. The Serious Fraud Office of the UK is currently probing allegations that the firm paid bribes to bag deals in China and Indonesia.
The investigation comes as a major blow to Rolls-Royce as it has a huge presence in India across defence aerospace, civil aerospace, energy and marine sectors. It has more than 1,350 engines in service in the country, including RB211 engines that power major gas pipelines with Gas Authority of India Limited.
Antony ordered the CBI probe after an HAL investigation found the bribery charges weren’t unsubstantiated.