Bet­ter prospects for speedy mod­erni­sa­tion

Th­ese lat­est de­ci­sions by the NDA gov­ern­ment clearly re­flects their ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the need to mod­ernise the armed forces quickly while also push­ing its agenda of “Made in In­dia”.


On Au­gust 29, 2014, the gov­ern­ment can­celled for the sec­ond time, the ` 6000 crore ten­der for 197 light util­ity he­li­copters (LUH) for the In­dian Army and the In­dian Air Force (IAF) to re­place the vin­tage fleet of Chee­tah and Chetak he­li­copters whose in­duc­tion had be­gun in the early 1970s. The ten­der was on hold for the last two years fol­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions of wrong­do­ing.

The case for the LUH was ini­ti­ated by Army Head­quar­ters in 2001 but the ten­der was floated for the first time only in 2004. In De­cem­ber 2007, after in­ten­sive ef­fort dur­ing which the con­tenders were put through an elab­o­rate tech­ni­cal eval­u­a­tion fol­lowed by flight eval­u­a­tion in dif­fer­ent weather con­di­tions and op­er­at­ing en­vi­ron­ment, the Euro­copter AS550 Fen­nec was se­lected as the plat­form of choice. How­ever, the In­dian Army was shocked to learn that on the day the con­tract was to be signed with the the Euro­copter (now Air­bus He­li­copters), the ten­der was can­celled rather abruptly. This decision was taken by the Min­istry of De­fence (MOD) due to al­le­ga­tions of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the process of se­lec­tion as well as the in­volve­ment of mid­dle­men which was and is not per­mit­ted un­der the De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure. Re­ports in the me­dia in­di­cated that one of the con­tenders who was elim­i­nated from the race, had com­plained of lack of fair­ness in the se­lec­tion process. What­ever the case, years of ef­fort by Army Head­quar­ters in pro­cess­ing the case as also the time, ef­fort and re­sources ex­pended by the con­tend­ing OEMs, proved to be in vain!

The ten­der was floated for the sec­ond time in July 2008 by which time the to­tal re­quire­ment of he­li­copters in this class in­clud­ing that of the IAF, had gone up to 384. How­ever, the num­bers to be pro­cured from a for­eign ven­dor was re­tained at 197 (133 for the In­dian Army and 64 for the IAF) and the In­dian aero­space ma­jor the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Ltd (HAL) was tasked to in­dige­nously de­velop a plat­form of equiv­a­lent pay­load (three tonnes) ca­pa­bil­ity and per­for­mance. Ten­ta­tively, the num­bers in­di­cated to HAL for the new ma­chine was pegged at 187. In the sec­ond round of ten­der­ing, there was only ma­chine, the Rus­sian Kamov Ka 226T com­pet­ing against the Euro­copter AS550 C3 Fen­nec. Once again the MOD or­dered in­ves­ti­ga­tions into al­le­ga­tions of wrong-do­ing in the pro­cess­ing of the ten­der. Based on the re­sults of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as also un­der the omi­nous shadow of the scam tainted Agus­taWest­land deal, the sec­ond ten­der for the 197 LUH was also can­celled.

But while the NDA gov­ern­ment has now aban­doned the idea of procur­ing the LUH from abroad a decade after the ten­der was floated for the first time, the re­spon­si­bil­ity for this fi­asco must lie squarely with the UPA gov­ern­ment for hav­ing dithered for a decade and hav­ing com­pli­cated the mat­ter to a point of no re­demp­tion. As the case had prac­ti­cally reached a dead-end, the present gov­ern­ment had no other op­tion. How­ever, they ought to be given credit for clear­ing a num­ber of other long pend­ing con­tracts for the three ser­vices. Th­ese in­clude ten­ders for 22 Apache he­li­copters as well as for 15 Chi­nook heavylift he­li­copters, both from Boe­ing, 16 multi-role heli- copters for the In­dian Navy and for 118 Ar­jun MkII Tanks for the In­dian Army apart from a num­ber other smaller projects all to­talling to ` 20,000 crore. While the can­cel­la­tion of the LUH deal has cer­tainly cre­ated se­ri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties for the In­dian Army and the IAF, it may prove to be bo­nanza for the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try that can look for­ward to a business worth ` 40,000 crore to build at least 400 ma­chines ini­tially.

Th­ese lat­est de­ci­sions by the NDA gov­ern­ment clearly re­flects their ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the need to mod­ernise the armed forces quickly while also push­ing its agenda of “Made in In­dia”. The IAF can now look for­ward with re­newed con­fi­dence to the early fi­nal­i­sa­tion of the con­tract for the 126 Rafale medium multi-role com­bat air­craft.

Rafale medium multi-role

com­bat air­craft

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