The unanswered questions

The unanswered questions

Even as Indian officials are visiting Italy to gather evidences of corruption in the Rs 3,600 crore VVIP helicopter deal, and the government awaits a response from the supplier company, Finmeccanica, many questions remain unanswered:

-  Following a meeting on November 19, 2003, at the Prime Minister’s Office, Brajesh Mishra, the then National Security Adviser (NSA) and Principal Secretary to Prime Minister (PM) Atal Bihari Vajpayee, wrote to the chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF) on December 22, 2003, to review technical specifications for these helicopters in consultation with the defence secretary. Mishra asked the IAF to set in motion a fast track selection process.

But the IAF headquarters (HQ) did not act until March 2005. Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi took over as the chief of air staff on December 31, 2004. Operational requirements were deliberated between the IAF, the NSA, the Special Protection Group (SPG) and the defence ministry between March 2005 and September 2006.

Why was the IAF inactive for 14 months? It is relevant to mention here that a general election was held during the 14-month period. Tyagi’s predecessor Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy told Deccan Herald that he welcomed a probe to clear the air.

-  Originally, the idea was to buy only 8 helicopters. But following discussions involving the IAF, the SPG and other officials, the number was enhanced to 12 with four helicopters in the non-VIP configuration, for security reasons.

The rationale for buying 12 helicopters remains unclear, considering the fact it was unlikely that the President, the PM, and other VIPs would all fly by helicopters at the same time therefore necessitating 12 choppers.

-  The field trials for AgustaWestland’s AW-101 and Sikorsky’s S-92 were carried out in the UK and the USA in January-February 2008. A field evaluation team comprising officials from the SPG and the IAF recommended induction of AW-101. Who were these officers and why AW-101 choppers were not evaluated in Siachen or Leh or Tawang areas where they will be put to use?

-  During negotiations in 2008-09, both the SPG and the Air HQ decided to include three additional systems. They were Traffic Collusion Avoidance System (TCAS-II) and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) for all 12 helicopters and Medical evacuation system for 8 VVIP copters. The contract negotiation committee concluded a price of 556,262,026 Euros. It is not known what was the cost of these platforms without these components. Air Chief Marshal P V Naik replaced Tyagi at Vayu Bhawan when the CNC gave its recommendations.

-  What will be gained by send­ing three officers, two from the CBI and one from the defence ministry, to Italy at a time when an Italian court made it clear that investigation documents could not be shared at the moment. Since February 2012, every effort to receive authentic information was stonewalled by Italy.

-  As the ministry of external affairs earlier stated, “News reports alone could not be the basis for ministry of defence to make any preliminary determination”.

It is not clear what additional information the defence ministry has at the moment to “initiate the process to cancel the contract.”

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