Indian army eyes Eurocopter, Bell
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Indian army eyes Eurocopter, Bell

An Indian Army officer confirmed the two helicopters were in the race but wasn't sure of the stage at which the project was.

india Updated: May 02, 2006 14:02 IST

The Indian Army is believed to have short-listed the Bell-407 and the Eurocopter AS 550 for a Rs 22 billion ($500 million) contract for 197 light helicopters to replace its ageing fleet of Chetaks and Cheetahs, some of which were inducted more than three decades ago.

"The final trials have been conducted and we are definitely in the race," an official of Bell Helicopter India Inc, an American company, said.

An Indian Army officer confirmed the two helicopters were in the race but wasn't sure of the stage at which the project was. Eurocopter officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Army has projected a requirement for a helicopter that can carry loads of up to 75 kg heights of 23,000 feet on the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir. Flying at these heights poses unique challenges due to the rarified atmosphere.

According to the Bell official, the army wants to by 60 helicopters outright with the remaining 137 being licensed manufactured by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

As regards the transfer of technology element, he said Bell "adequately meets the requirements" in the five categories involved. The percentage of technology transfer ranges from 60 to 100 per cent.

The Bell official said the company had offered to make India the global hub to produce the 407. Bell had also inked a deal with HAL to manufacture tail rotor blades and other critical components for the popular Bell 206 Jet Ranger and initial deliveries have already been made.

The Army Aviation Corps (AAC) currently operates a fleet of 300 French-designed Chetaks and Cheetahs, originally known as the Alouette II and Alouette III respectively.

The army officer said that apart from replacing the bulk of these machines, the AAC was also seeking to acquire attack helicopters of the Mi-25 type the Indian Air Force (IAF) currently operates.

The lack of such a weapons platform was sorely felt during the 1999 Kargil operations in Kashmir when the Army went into action to evict Pakistani intruders who had occupied the heights in the area.

"Our logic is that since it is we who have the requirement, it is we who should operate the attack choppers. This is not to say the air force should also operate them," the Army officer.

However, the IAF might not give up its turf so easily, even though a squadron of Mi-25's is currently under the control of the Indian Army's Western Command.

First Published: Apr 30, 2006 15:30 IST