The “delay in the procurement program for reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters has become a serious cause of concern for Eurocopter,” wrote Rainer Farid, vice president for sales and customer relations in India and South Asia in an April 3 letter to India's director general of acquisitions. “Since issue of the current [request for proposals], till date four years has elapsed, and the validity of the commercial quotes has already been extended six times.”
Kamov declined requests for comment on the program, but an official at Russian Helicopters in New Delhi described a sense of confusion about how to proceed.
“It does not look good. The government hasn't answered questions sent by us. The signal appears to be, step back, this isn't happening,” the official said. “We are currently weighing our options under the Defense Procurement Procedure. There is a total absence of clarity on the way forward.”
Industry worries appear to be shared within the Indian government. Defense ministry officials remain grim about the program's future.
“It isn't formally over. But it seems unlikely it will come up for a decision any time soon,” says a senior defense ministry acquisitions officer. “The entire deal will have to be reexamined, perhaps from scratch.”
The possibility of ending the procurement a second time is a bitter blow for the army and air force, both of which have desperately sought new-build helicopters for operations from high-altitude bases since 2004.
Their fleets of light utility Cheetah/Alouette-IIs and Chetak/Alouette-IIIs are too old to be reliable. In February, the army concluded a $76 million deal for 20 Cheetals—up-engined versions of the Cheetah/Alouette-II that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) builds under license—as a stopgap, anticipating delays in the light helicopter deal.
HAL's own light utility helicopter program is delayed but making progress. The program looks to meet a requirement of 185 helicopters for the army, air force and navy. After a protracted effort, the company has finally chosen the Turbomeca Ardiden 1U turboshaft engine. Urged to speed the program, HAL has committed to a first flight in 2015, and final operational clearance in 2017.
Separately, the navy will shortly release a request for proposals to service a requirement of 56 light naval utility helicopters. Fighting against a potential blacklist in the VVIP helicopter bribery scandal, AgustaWestland has pitched its AW109 and is likely to compete with the Sikorsky S-76D, Bell 429 and Eurocopter AS565 Panther.