After years of delays, the Indian Ministry of Defense has cleared a proposal to buy 16 multirole helicopters worth $1 billion for the Navy.
The clearance was reported given at the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) yesterday meeting chaired by the Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, according to Indian media reports.
However it is unclear if the tender will be re-launched or picked up from where it left off last year. In 2011, the Indian Navy completed trials with evaluated the NHI NH90 and Sikorsky S70B helicopters and submitted its report to the Defense Ministry. However a year later the MoD requested competitors to extend their proposals until December 31, 2012 without offering any explanations.
Another major reason for the delay in completing the contract has been Sikorsky’s acceptance into the final round of competitions.
Rivals NH Industries and Eurocopter have vehemently protested against Sikorsky’s acceptance into the final round of competitions stating it does not meet the technical requirements. Eurocopter, in a written letter to the MoD, sought clarifications from the government over the Sikorsky.
NH Industries claims that Sikorsky is not technically compliant unless its S70B helicopter has been granted waivers on a number of non-compliances of the Multi Role Helicopter (MRH) RFP qualitative requirements.
In a letter to then Defence Minister A.K. Antony, the NHI Managing Director, B. Vaccari has sought to provide ‘additional information’ to support its earlier communication to the MoD. NHI Industries lists out 10 instances where the S70B could not have met the Naval Staff Quality Requirements (NSQRs).
These include requirements for internal/external tanks, fuel reserve, sonar, health and usage monitoring system, deck lock and technical literature. The letter quotes the S70B technical manuals to emphasize that the trial performance of its rival could have been at variance with the NSQRs.
In addition, NH Industries claims it has taken the necessary permission from European governments to provide technical documentation to the Indian Navy so that future certification requirements can be met by Indian certification agencies.
Meanwhile, Sikorsky appears upbeat about its prospects in the $ 1 billion tender. A Sikorsky executive was quoted as saying in the Indian media last year that its helicopter could be the L1 (lowest bidder) in the Indian naval tender and that it was awaiting the outcome of the field evaluation trials (FET) held late last year.
Sikorsky has tied up with the Tata business group of India and expect to set up an helicopter assembly plant in India for defence helicopters should it win the Navy tender.
A section of the Indian media had earlier reported quoting “Navy sources” that both the NH90 and the Sikorsky S70B had cleared the field evaluation trials and that the report had been submitted to the Indian MoD which has to decide on an eventual winner.