The Army and Air Forces wait to get desperately needed replacements for the ageing Cheetah helicopters is set to get longer after objections were raised by the Finance department on the trial process. The procurement is already several months behind schedule given that field trials were completed in December last year.
Sources said the Finance department has raised objections to the trial process as one of the requirements mentioned in the request for proposals (RFP) was not verified during the trials. One particular trial required the two competing helicopters Kamov 226 and Eurocopter AS 550 Fennec to land at a helipad located at over 5,000 metres,stay overnight and take off the next day without external power.
However,it has now emerged that the trial was carried out by the Army at a lower elevation of around 4,000 metres. After the objection was raised,the Army explained that it did not have a helipad located at over 5,000 metres that could accommodate both choppers as well as their crew overnight.
Officials said the Defence Ministry and Army are now trying to get around the objection by changing the qualitative requirements of the contract. The back and forth between the ministry and Army has affected the contract that has still not been cleared for the next step of opening of commercial bids despite the fact that trials were completed a year ago.
While both machines are expected to make the cut to the next round,there have been technical issues,particularly with the Russian machine,that have delayed the process. The Kamov 226 was rated as an experimental helicopter and did not furnish necessary documentations to the ministry in time verifying its certification from an international agency.
The Russian helicopter was earlier granted special waiver by the Army for the trials despite it being 200 kg above the weight stipulated by the RFP. Similarly,the helicopter was also granted a waiver despite its top speed rating being less that the one prescribed in the tender.
Eurocopter faced allegations followed by anonymous complaints to the ministry for not meeting tender requirements for carrying stretchers and medical personnel during the trials.
The third contender in the race,Augusta Westland,was disqualified in the trials for bringing in a different machine than the one it mentioned in the RFP.