IAF chief's silence deafening

Even as the controversy rages on the VVIP copter deal, Chief of Air Staff N A K Browne who has first hand knowledge of the Rs 3,600-crore procurement, maintains a stoic silence.

As the deputy chief of air staff between 2007 and 2009, Browne was in charge of the IAF acquisition programme and handled all files and reports including the one on the purchase of 12 helicopters from Agusta Westland.

A fact sheet released by the defence ministry makes it clear that clearance of the platform’s technical specifications and approval from the defence acquisition council took place when Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi was heading the IAF between December 2004 and March 2007.The project cost also went up by 50 per cent as the IAF under Tyagi – after deliberations with the Prime Minister's Office and Special Protection Group – decided to buy 12 choppers instead of eight as originally planned. They decided on eight choppers in VIP configuration and four in non-VIP configuration.

Another key decision – conducting the trial outside India – was taken at a time when the IAF was headed by Air Chief Marsal Fali Homi Major. Officials said an approval was obtained for holding the trials outside the country. Going by the rules, trials of these platforms should have taken place in India and specifically in challenging climatic conditions of Siachen base camp or Leh or Tawang areas where they will be put to use.

Trial result

The field trials for AgustaWestland’s AW-101 and Sikorsky’s S-92 helicopter were carried out in the UK and USA in January-February, 2008. A field evaluation team comprising a few officials from the SPG and IAF, recommended induction of AW-101 in the service based on trial results.

The staff evaluation report of Air headquarters concluded that the S-92 helicopter was non-compliant with respect to four specifications for VVIP choppers. They are missile approach warning system, service ceiling of 4.5 km, drift down altitude and hover out of ground effect. The report found AW-101 fully compliant with all specifications.

When contract negotiations were going on in 2008-09, both SPG and Air HQ decided to include three additional systems in these helicopters. They were Traffic Collusion Avoidance System and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System for all 12 helicopters and medical evacuation system for eight VVIP copters. None were in the original specifications.

The contract negotiation committee concluded a price of 556,262,026 Euro and the deal was inked in February 2010 when Air Chief Marshal P V Naik was at the helm of affairs in Vayu Bhawan.

Meanwhile, Finmeccanica said AgustaWestland would demonstrate that it had fully complied with Indian law and the principles of ethics.

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