Army’s plan to replace Cheetah fleet goes awry
The army's plan to replace Cheetah and Chetak helicopters has flown into rough weather: Eurocopter has refused to extend its bid because of inordinate delays in procurement.
Sources said Eurocopter, one of two contenders - the other is the Russian Kamov - for the contract to supply 197 light utility helicopters, has conveyed it won't extend its commercial bid by another year as requested by the defence ministry.
The acquisition has been hanging fire since December 2011 when Eurocopter and Kamov qualified for the bid after a two year acquisition process. The army cleared both the helicopters but acquisition got stuck after the defence ministry received several representations about technical deficiencies in both machines.
The ministry then set up a technical committee to examine the matter. The panel too cleared the helicopters but put the onus on the ministry to take a call on waiving off some deviations in both machines from the required specifications. However, a year on, the ministry had not taken a decision and so requested the manufacturers to extend the bids for another year.
Eurocopter replied it won't be able to do so because there was still no clarity on when the contract will be finalised. It also asked for a time frame for the procurement. Kamov's response to the request is not known.
The military has been waiting for a replacement for the 1970-vintage Cheetah, a lifeline for thousands of soldiers deployed along the border, since 2005. An earlier process to procure a replacement was scrapped in 2007 after discrepancies emerged in the way trials and technical evaluations were conducted.
The current procurement process also saw its twists and turns. In November 2009, US aerospace giant Bell pulled out of the tender because of "stringent" offsets clause that requires the winning contender to invest 50 percent of the purchase price into the Indian defence industry. This left Kamov, Eurocopter and AgustaWestland to compete for the contract. AgustaWestland was later dropped on technical grounds.
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