M A I N   N E W S

Top firms opt out of Army chopper deal
Man Mohan
Our Roving Editor

New Delhi, September 26
American ‘Bell Helicopter’ and Italian ‘ Agusta Westland’ have withdrawn their bids for the 197 Advance Light Helicopters (ALH) being acquired for the Army for search and rescue operations. The $600 million deal, they have complained, is being processed in favour of the French-German combine ‘Eurocopter’.

It is unusual for such global firms to withdraw from the race after two years of the tender ‘process’, alleging ‘bias’. Augusta Westland, ironically, won the bid in February this year for supplying 12 choppers at a cost of Rs 3,546.17 crore, eight of which would be customised for VVIP transportation. They will replace the ageing Russian made MI-8 helicopters, which are close to completing their technical life.

A representative of a firm lobbying for ‘Eurocopter’, however, quipped, “ after having failed to meet tough standards, it looks like just a case of sour grapes for our competitors.”

The ‘Eurocopter group was created in 1992 with the merger between the helicopter divisions of ‘Aerospatiale-Matra’ (France) and ‘DaimlerChrysler Aerospace’ (Germany). The group is now a subsidiary, owned wholly by ‘European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Company’ (EADS), one of the three largest aerospace groups in the world.

The helicopters of remaining two bidders - Kamov of Russia and Eurocopter - are now undergoing field weapons trial exercises for final selection.

It looks like an ‘open war’ among competitors with allegations of ‘bias’ and ‘kickbacks’ flying all over. Sources said the complaints have been sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defence Ministry.

Besides the Army, Air Force and the Navy too are trying to clinch a similar deal separately to suit their own combat requirements. But in all the three deals, American Bell, French Eruocopter, Italian Augusta Westland and Russian Kamov are the main bidders. Only in the Army deal, things seem to be going haywire, with two bidders alleging ‘foul play.’

In all, India is looking for 384 helicopters - 197 for the Army, 137 for the Air Force and 50 for the Navy (which intends to replace aging Chetak helicopters bought 30 years ago.)





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