A top general had a narrow escape on Monday after the Cheetah helicopter he was flying in crashed within seconds of taking off from Dimapur, Nagaland. The two pilots and another colonel also survived the crash that took place due to suspected engine failure.
Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat, who heads the army’s Dimapur-based HQs 3 Corps, suffered minor injuries. The single-engine army aviation chopper had barely climbed 20 metres before it went out of control and crashed, an official said.
The crash has focused attention on the ageing Cheetah and Chetak helicopters operated by the Indian military and the risks associated with flying these obsolete machines that should have been replaced years ago.
Steps taken to replace these French helicopters of 1970s vintage with new light utility helicopters (LUH) have not produced any results yet. The NDA government had last August scrapped a `6,000-crore project to import 197 LUHs for the army and the air force.
The proposed acquisition had been mired in kickback allegations and technical deviations.
India has now decided that the helicopters will be in produced in India in joint venture with a foreign firm. European and Russian vendors were eyeing the LUH contract.
The decision is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intentions to speed up defence indigenisation and transform the country from the world’s biggest arms importer into an export powerhouse.
The LUH tender was had been on hold for two years, with the CBI investigating the role of a brigadier who had allegedly sought a bribe from UK-based AgustaWestland to swing the deal in its favour. The firm, however, was eliminated in the early stages of the contract, leaving only Eurocopter and Kamov in the fray.