Apart from IAF, several agencies, including SPG involved in selection process
In the event of cancellation of the Rs. 3,600-crore chopper deal with AgustaWestland, the Indian Air Force will find itself pushed back by several years to initiate the tedious process of tendering, evaluating and selecting a suitable helicopter to ferry VVIPs. Privileged sources in the government pointed out that scrapping of the deal would nullify the entire procedure, which had begun way back in August 1999 to replace the ageing Mi-8 VIP helicopters. Defending the process, highly placed sources brushed aside allegations and reports that tender requirements were tweaked at any stage of the lengthy process that had gone on for nearly five years begun 2003. The sources pointed out that it was the first time that allegations of wrongdoing surfaced in a deal that went through IAF scrutiny.
Apart from the IAF, several agencies including the Special Protection Group (SPG), the then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, the National Security Adviser and officials from the Defence Ministry were involved in finalising the operational requirements (ORs) and narrowing down on AgustaWestland after the multivendor competitive bidding process.
On increasing the number of choppers from eight to 12, the sources said four helicopters were added in non-VIP configuration for security reasons. Referring to operational altitude, which was brought down from 6,000 to 4,500 metres, the sources said that at the November 19, 2003 meeting, taken by the then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, it was pointed out that the PM and the President rarely made visits to places that involved flying at an altitude beyond 4,500 metres.
Responding to the March 20, 2002 global request for proposals, 11 firms including four from the U.S. and three from Russia had evinced interest but the number came down after the technical evaluation committee recommended three — Mi 172 of Russia, EC 225 of Eurocopter and AgustaWestland’s AW-101. Field Evaluation Trials (FETs) were also held from November to December 2002 in Russia and South Korea for Russian Mi 172 and EC-225 but no such exercise was held for EH101 because the helicopter was not certified to fly at 6,000 metres, the sources said. After the FET, only EC-225 was recommended for acquisition and it resulted in a single-vendor situation.
On November 8, 2003, the PMO scheduled a presentation for November 19, 2003 which was presided over by the Principal Secretary to the PM and it was decided to make the operational requirements broadbased. Thereafter, RFP was issued to six vendors in September 2006. Three vendors — Sikorsky of USA (S-92 helicopter), AgustaWestland, UK (AW-101) and Rosoboronexport, Russia (Mi-172 helicopter) responded. As the Russian company did not submit any earnest money, its commercial offer was turned down.
“On the basis of November 19, 2003 meeting, as many as 65 service qualitative requirements (SQRs) were deliberated upon,” the sources said adding all SQRs were finalised in a “collegiate manner” after discussions with all stakeholders.
The sources said the process ensured a level-playing field and it was equally applicable to all vendors.
After the trials, AW-101 of AgustaWestland was found to be compliant with all SQRs and the S-92 of Sikorsky did not comply with four SQRs — missile approach warning system, service ceiling of 4.5 km, drift down altitude and hover out of ground effect. After the Contract Negotiation Committee’s discussions with the vendor between September 2008 and January 2009, the Air Force recommended inclusion of the Traffic Collusion Avoidance System (TCAS-II) and the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) for all 12 choppers and the SPG recommended inclusion of the Medevac system for eight VVIP helicopters.
Finally, the CCS approved the proposal on January 18, 2010 and nearly a month later the deal was signed with AgustaWestland. The sources said AW-101 would hold good for another 40 years and was most suitable for all requirements of transportation and safety of the top leaders. Scrapping of the deal would prove a major setback to the IAF as well the government, they added.