The $1 billion deal to purchase new basic trainers for the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been put on hold after serious allegations have surfaced about discrepancies in the procurement process. The defence ministry is taking a re-look at the selection process following a request from South Korea to investigate concerns about the validity of commercial documents submitted by a Swiss firm that was declared as the lowest bidder.
The procurement process has now been slowed down as the ministry as well as the IAF is scrutinising the selection process. As reported by The Indian Express,Swiss firm Pilatus had emerged as the cheapest when commercial bids were opened in May this year,making it the automatic winner of the competition to provide 75 basic trainers to the IAF.
However,sources said that serious allegations have now cropped up that have necessitated a re-look,including a charge that incomplete commercial bids were submitted by the Swiss firm and certain charges like transfer of technology costs were not factored in. We are looking into the matter and if there are any discrepancies,action will be taken as per the Defence Procurement Procedure, an official said.
It is learnt that an official request for a look into certain charges regarding the selection was received by the defence ministry from South Korea. As reported,Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) came out second in the pricing bid while US firm Hawker-Beechcraft was the most expensive. This is also the first major Indian military aviation deal that Korea is taking part in.
While a thorough scrutiny is being conducted,there is a sense of urgency to purchase the new basic trainers given that the current fleet of HPT 32 basic trainers has been grounded since 2009 due to safety reasons.
Cadets are currently being trained on the harsher Kiran aircraft,that are more famous for their aerobatics as part of the Surya Kiran team. The grounding of the HPT 32s meant cadets were directly being trained on Kiran actually meant for second level training instead of being gently initiated into flying on slower and safer propeller driven aircraft.
However,there is some reason to cheer as the grounded HPT 32 fleet may come back to service in the next few months,thanks to a new safety feature.
The fleet is likely to get reactivated with a new Ballistic Recovery System (BRS). With this system,which was been approved by HAL and is set to be retrofitted to the entire grounded fleet,the entire HPT 32 aircraft will descend with the help of a large parachute in case of engine failure.