India floats tender for combat, heavy lift helicopters (Lead)

May 27th, 2009 - 11:30 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Gulshan Luthra
New Delhi, May 27 (IANS) To replace its ageing helicopter fleet, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has released the much-awaited tenders for 22 combat and 15 heavy lift choppers to US, European and Russian manufacturers.

The tenders, or Request for Proposals (RfPs), had been pending for some time and needed clearance from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which actually acquires any weapon and systems on behalf of the services. But due to the elections, political clearance was on hold till now.

One of the first things which Defence Minister A.K. Antony did after taking over the office Monday was to clear some of the already pending files on his table and release the RfPs to manufacturers of combat helicopters. On Tuesday, the RfP for the heavy lift helicopters was released.

The three services have been pressing the government for several years to speed up the process to replace and augment their mostly Soviet-vintage inventory. Times have changed since these systems were acquired and some of the essential items on board any aircraft or ship today, or even for an army tank and artillery gun, are sophisticated electronic surveillance and engagement systems towards real time neutralisation of any threat.

Precision and real time engagement is the key demand, and requirement, for the three services now.

IAF Chief of Staff Air Chief Marshal F.H. Major told IANS that the services expected the government to clear many files which had been pending for long.

Antony has expressed that he shares the concern of the armed forces for lack of modern equipment and initiated action on day one of his second innings in the ministry.

After the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said that the Indian forces must have the capability to monitor the borders and coastline, as also to check any intrusion or aggression. The proposal to acquire Boeing P8-I long-endurance Maritime Multi Mission Aircraft (MMA) was cleared immediately.

The RfP for the 22 combat helicopters had actually been released just before the Berlin Air Show in May 2008 to six contenders, Sikorsky for Black Hawk, Boeing for Apache AH 64D, Bell for Super Cobra (all three from US), Eurocopter for Tiger, Russian Mil for Mi 35, and Augusta Westland for Mangusta.

The US companies could not compete due to what they said were time constraints and procedural bottlenecks within their country. IAF felt that some of the best technologies in combat machines were not on the platter, and accordingly a re-tender was requested.

IAF and army helicopters are often called during natural disasters, but most of their helicopters are old, and not capable of the demanding tasks. A heavy lift helicopter like the Chinook for instance, which is used in the rough terrains of Afghanistan, can carry under-slung trucks and artillery guns as well as jeeps within its cargo bay.

The IAF had acquired a few Mi 26 in the mid-1980s. They are old, short of spares, and need replacement.

Both the IAF and the Indian Army want heavy lift capability.

Viuvek Lall, Boeing’s Integrated Defence Systems (IDS) country head for India, said: “Boeing has received the RfPs for the attack and heavy lift helicopters and will review the requirements. Boeing’s Apache and Chinook can provide the Indian Air Force with the most capable, proven and versatile platforms in their respective class.”

Air Vice Marshal (retired) A.J.S. Walia, Sikorsky’s India vice president, said his company will pit “the world famous Black Hawk” in the competition.

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