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Eurocopter wary of new Indian Army tender

Smarting over the cancellation of its proposed deal for selling 197 helicopters to the Indian Army, European aerospace major says it will "carefully" look at any fresh global tender.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2008 12:14 IST

Smarting over the cancellation of its proposed deal for selling 197 helicopters to the Indian Army, European aerospace major Eurocopter says it will "carefully" look at any fresh global tender that might be floated for the choppers.

"Eurocopter will carefully evaluate any new RFP (request for proposal) before taking a decision on whether to reply or not," a company official said. "We have to verify and see if it makes sense to answer the (fresh) RFP," Christopher Bach, Eurocopter's Paris-based spokesman, told IANS during a visit in New Delhi.

"Eurocopter does not give up easily but this does not mean we are after orders under all circumstances," he added.

India's defence ministry had on December 6 announced that what was considered an almost signed, sealed and delivered $550 million deal was off due to deficiencies in the evaluation process.

"The current RFP (request for proposal) has been scrapped. A fresh RFP will soon be sent out," defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar had said.

The signing of the deal with Eurocopter had been spoken of as the crowning jewel of French President Nicolas Saskozy's visit to India from January 25-26.

According to Bach, "nothing official" had been communicated to the company and it was solely relying on media reports about the cancellation. The defence ministry had said the RFP had been cancelled due to irregularities in the evaluation process as Eurocopter had fielded an Ecureuil civilian machine and not the Fennec military version for the trials.

Bach hotly contested this.

"The AS350 B3 civilian version presented by Eurocopter in India is exactly the same helicopter as the AS550 C3 military version in terms of airframe, systems, main gear box, rotor head, blades, and engine performance," he held.

"This apart, we had made it clear to the evaluators that we were fielding the civilian version. We had also demonstrated the military version to an army delegation in France (in 2005)."

"It is clear we did nothing wrong. It is not by accident that our competitors fell through," he added.

Five contenders were initially in the fray: Eurocopter, Bell, Italy's Agusta, and Russia's Kamov and Kazan. The list was then narrowed down to the Eurocopter and the Bell-407.

The Bell-407 dropped out in 2006 after the machine it sent for evaluation could not perform a three-axis vector, an essential requirement for flying in areas like the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir.

The three-axis vector enables the helicopter perform a 'U' like manoeuvre to counter adverse weather conditions in mountainous areas.

"We are reliable and objective partners. We are convinced that we are best suited to provide the best platform to the Indian Army, which really has a very, very urgent demand," Bach maintained.

"Our helicopters are not the cheapest but are the most capable platforms," he added.

The Indian Army desperately needs new helicopters to replace the ageing 1970s-vintage Chetaks and Cheetahs as it modernises and expands its Army Aviation Corps (AAC) to meet current and future rapid mobility battlefield requirements.

Ironically, Eurocopter has been assisting state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in upgrading the Chetaks and Cheetahs and ensuring they remain airworthy.

Eurocopter also sources components from HAL for the Ecureuil and other helicopters it manufactures.

Eurocopter is an arm of European aerospace giant EADS. Another arm of the conglomerate builds the Eurofighter Typhoon that is one of the contenders for an Indian Air Force (IAF) order for 126 multi role combat aircraft.