Loosening purse strings for its latest shopping binge, the defence ministry has given its nod for the induction of 384 light helicopters in the army and the air force. The Defence Acquisition Council, headed by Defence Minister A.K. Antony, on Thursday gave its seal of approval to the deal worth around $1.6 billion. A global tender will be issued for this shortly.
The ministry has clubbed the requirements of the two services to get the best deal from international vendors who are drooling over the contract. Desperate to replace their fleet of ageing Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, the army and the air force have moved one step closer towards inducting 259 and 125 new light helicopters. The request for proposal is likely to be issued to aviation majors such as Bell, EADS, Augusta Westland and Kamov.
Defence ministry sources said that the first 197 helicopters would be purchased in flyaway condition and the remaining 187 manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited under a transfer of technology (TOT) agreement. In line with the global tender for 126 fighter aircraft worth some $10 billion, the RFP for the helicopters will contain an offset clause under which the foreign vendor will be required to reinvest 50 per cent of the value of the contract to fuel commercial activity in the indigenous defence sector.
Scuttling the army’s plans to modernise its helicopter fleet, the government had last year scrapped the deal for 197 light helicopters after certain irregularities were detected. The army has projected an additional requirement of 62 helicopters in the new tender.
The proposals received from the contenders would be technically evaluated for compliance with the military’s operational requirements. The shortlisting of vendors will be done after extensive field trials after which their commercial bids would be examined and compared. Sources said the contract could take about two years to conclude.
The army and air force have also finalised negotiations with HAL for the purchase of 166 Dhruv advanced light helicopters, which will be inducted over the next two to three years. Besides, the air force is looking at procuring 80 medium-lift, 22 attack and 15 heavy-lift helicopters in the short term.