Defence Ministry may review Rs 3000-crore helicopter deal

The Defence Ministry on Wednesday will take a re-look at the Rs 3000-crore deal to buy 197 light utility helicopters to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleet.

The defence acquisition council under Defence Minister A K Antony will reexamine the proposal from the Army to buy the helicopters to take a collective decision on the fate of the much-awaited defence contract. “All aspects of the deal (including scrapping) will be reviewed,” said an official.

The light helicopters are required to maintain steady supply to soldiers posted in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, including Siachen Glacier and far-flung areas of the North-East where roads either are patchy or inaccessible throughout the year.

These choppers are also required for reconnaissance, medical emergency and casualty evacuation. But because of their vintage, they met with accidents at regular intervals. A tender for acquiring the helicopters was first issued in 2004 and cancelled in 2007 with barely any official explanation. Two aviation majors Bell and Eurocopter were in competition at that time.

Subsequently, a fresh tender was issued in 2008 for procuring 197 helicopters at $750 million (approximately Rs 3,000 crore). After the screening and performance evaluation only Eurocopter and Russian Helicopter Company were left in the competition. Eurocopter’s Fennec helicopter participated in the trial in 2010.

The company, after a two-year wait, recently approached the Defence Ministry seeking to know how long it will wait to know the outcome of the tendering and trial process.

Meanwhile, corruption charges have surfaced in this deal. Subsequently, the Defence Ministry asked the Italian government and agencies concerned through the Ministry of External Affairs to provide the name and relevant documents relating to the alleged involvement of a brigadier in the ongoing process.

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