Decision on acquiring choppers for Army deferred

Decision on acquiring choppers for Army deferred

Decision on acquiring choppers for Army deferred

The Defence Ministry on Wednesday did not take any decision on the future of an Army proposal to purchase 197 helicopters to replace its ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleet in the absence of Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh who is on an official visit to Japan.

What remains unknown at the moment is despite knowing the Army chief’s tour programme days in advance, why did the Ministry officials keep the 197-helicopter procurement on the agenda of the Defence Acquisition Council that met here on Wednesday under the chairmanship of Defence Minister A K Antony.

Also why the standard practice of vice chiefs representing their service in the absence of chiefs was not followed, is another piece of mystery.

The DAC, which met for almost two and half hours, did not discuss the 197 chopper deal and took some “minor” decisions on procurement, an official said.

The Army proposal – pending since 2008 when a fresh tender was issued following the cancellation of a 2003 tender – would be taken up in the next DAC meeting.

 Eurocopter’s AS 550 Fennec and Russian Kamov’s 226 were shortlisted after trials in 2010 whereas AgustaWestland was knocked out for not meeting the requirements.

The DAC decided to take a “collective decision” on the Rs 3,000-crore ($ 3 billion) deal after a Special Technical Oversight Committee of the Army permitted modifications in the helicopter’s specifications including a “bulge door” that allowed carrying a wounded soldier on a stretcher in straight position.

As per previous specifications, the soldier has to bend his knee or crawl for the chopper door to be closed, which may not be possible for a wounded soldier.

In December, 2012, the Defence Ministry asked Eurocopter and the Russian helicopter company to extend the validity of their bids by 12 months till December 2013.

Eurocopter agreed to extend the validity of its commercial bid till March 2013 only and wanted a clear road map before extending the deadline further.