Helicopter procurement programs worth billions of dollars could be delayed or altogether cancelled in India following the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper bribery scandal which is being investigated in Italy and India.
India has already put further payments and delivery of the AW101 helicopters on hold till the pendency of an investigation by its Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which has found grounds to charge the former chief of the Indian Air Force, S.P. Tyagi, his cousins and several other individuals with accepting bribes to clear the US$700 million deal.
The Indian MoD has put on hold another deal for 197 light utility helicopters in which AgustaWestland had been disqualified earlier. The remaining participants, Kamov of Russia and Eurocopter had been told to extend their bids last year but now, this too has expired and there is no further word on the deal. Informed sources said that in view of non-selection of the final winner, the deal is “as good as dead”.
Another deal, for the purchase of 90 multi-role helicopters worth an estimated $2.5 billion too could be in trouble. A first order of 16 helicopters for which NH Industries and Sikorksy are bidding has not gone past the technical evaluation stage. AgustaWestland is a partner in the NH consortium and its participation in the tender could depend upon how the VVIP investigation progresses.
Yet another project for the purchase of 56 utility and surveillance helicopters, an RFP for which was issued late last year to a host of manufacturers including AgustaWestland could be in peril as well.
The project is for the replacement for naval sea-king choppers purchased over two decades ago.
India has perhaps the world’s biggest military helicopter procurement program totalling to about 900 helicopters in the coming decade, including 384 light-utility and observation, 90 naval multi-role, 65 light combat, 22 heavy-duty attack, 139 medium-lift and 15 heavy-lift, among others.
Perhaps as a sign of changes in procurement policy, the Indian Army placed an order for 20 Cheetal helicopters with India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics last month. The Cheetals are a HAL-developed variant of SA 316B Lama helicopters made by the erstwhile Aerospatiale, but equipped with modern engine, avionics and safety systems to significantly extend its flying envelope.