After a delay of more than a year,the procurement process for a crucial new light helicopter,which will replace the ageing Cheetah choppers,will finally resume in March with the Defence Ministry finally calling five shortlisted contenders for field trials.
The procurement is several years behind schedule. A tender was cancelled in 2007 after various discrepancies emerged in the selection process and the government again put the procurement process on hold for close to a year as it failed to take a decision on carrying out trials. Sources said the ministry this week called all qualifying contenders for trials to procure 197 helicopters for the Army and the IAF at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore. However,trials will be completed only by 2011 and a contract for a new helicopter fleet is not likely to be signed before 2012.
By conservative estimates,the first of the new helicopters are not expected to arrive before 2014,more than five years behind schedule. In the meantime,IAF and Army will continue to depend on Cheetah choppers,which are of the 1970s vintage,to carry medicines,food and evacuate troops.
Armed forces that are reportedly dismayed by the delay as they are struggling to maintain the fleet of ageing Cheetah helicopters that carry supplies to troops posted on Pakistan and China border.
The contract for light helicopters has been jinxed as the earlier procurement process that started in 2002 had come under a cloud after discrepancies emerged in the selection process. The new procurement receive a setback last November after one of the prime contenders,US aerospace giant Bell,pulled out from the tender citing a stringent offsets clause that requires the winning contender to pump in 50 per cent of the purchase price into the Indian defence industry.