INDIA CALLS FOR FLIGHT TRIALS OF R&S HELICOPTERS
By Bulbul Singh
15 Dec 09. Trials have been announced for an Indian Air Force (IAF) $650 million program for the purchase of 197 Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) helicopters. Interestingly, Bell Helicopter of United
States, which forced the Indian defence ministry to go for a re-bid of the current tender of purchase of 197 helicopters will not be participating as it did not even file a bid.
IAF will hold flight trials of the helicopters in two phases, the winter trials and the summer trials. While the winter trials will be held at the IAF airfield at Leh at a height of 20000 feet, in February 2010, the summer trials will be held in the Rajasthan desert in June 2010 at IAF airfield at Jodhpur.
The purchase of the helicopters is already five years behind scheduled,
mainly because of the cancellation of the earlier tender in 2007 and rebid of the program again in early 2008. In 2007, Eurocopter had emerged as the winner in the technical, flight trials and even commercial negotiations. However, just when the tender was to be awarded, Bell Helicopter, which was second in the run, represented to the Indian defence ministry charging that the procurement process had several procedural discrepancies which led to the re-bid of the Program.
Both the Indian Army and Air Force need the R&S helicopters to replace the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which were bought in 1970’s and are now exceeding their planned life.
The overseas defence companies have been asked to bring their helicopters for trials at Ambala air force base in Haryana, from where the winter trials will begin.
With Bell Helicopters out, only Eurocopter of France, AugustaWestland of Italy and Kazan of Russia are in competition.
IAF needs over 300 helicopters to replace the aging Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. In early 2008, the Request for Proposal was floated for the purchase of 384 helicopters for both the Indian Air Force and Army.
The current program for the purchase of 197 helicopters will be purchased off-the-shelf, while the remaining 187 helicopters are being produced by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The breakdown of the purchase of 384 helicopters includes 125 for the Indian Air Force, and 259 for the Indian Army.
HAL is already in the process of developing R&S helicopter in the three tonne class and can carry a payload of 1500 kilogram and operate at altitudes of up to six kilometers. Sources in HAL said that they will need to tie up with an overseas defence company very soon to fast track the development of the helicopter, as the program is already behind schedule and the urgent need to replace the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters.
An official of the Indian defence ministry said that the government is in regular touch regarding the pace of the helicopter program at HAL and said, the program can be put to overseas bidding if HAL is behind schedule.