India will continue using six Mi-17v5 helicopters for VVIP travel as the possibility of reviving the AgustaWestland chopper deal looks remote.
With two helicopters mothballed and further deliveries effectively cancelled as India has claimed its bank guarantee, the deal with AgustaWestland seems as good as dead.
India had placed an order for 12 AgustaWestland VVIP choppers of which two had been delivered and a third in production when the bribery scandal broke out in late 2013. Since then, the Indian MoD has pulled out six Mi-17v5 machines, out of its order for 140 choppers with Russian Helicopters, for VVIP use.
At the time of the AgustaWestland deal’s suspension, the IAF had said that utilizing the Mi-17V5 was a temporary measure. However, now it seems that the Russian Chooppers will continue to ferry VVIPs for a long time to come.
Given that the original order to Agustawestland was for 12 machines, there is the possibility of more Mi-17V5 committed to VVIP usage. However, while the Indian Air Force provides the crew and maintains the VVIP choppers, its usage is decided by the Cabinet Secretariat, which will take a call on whether order more Mi-17V5s or go in for a fresh global tender, sources said.
The modifications to the Mi-17V5 include armour plating to protect the choppers from small arms fire and changes to the internal configuration to suit VVIP comfort.
Following the unexpected Indian decision to convert some of their Mi-17V5 machines to VVIP configuration, Russian Helicopters has been proposing these machines for VVIP usage to some of their international customers. The Mi-17v5, an improved version of the Mi-8 is touted as a multi-purpose chopper which means cargo, troop carrier and even as an attack helicopter.
“VVIP usage is new application for the Mi-17v5s which requires extreme customisation. We are in talks with several international customers who are looking at the Indian application with interest”, a Russian source told defenseworld.net.
Depending upon the operational conditions, VVIP customisations could mean plush interiors, secure communication suite, electronic warfare and defensive suite. “You might see a sample Mi-17v5 VVIP helicopter in some international events next year”, the source said.