March 2, 2015 by Shiv Aroor - Livefist
India's third attempt at procuring 197 light reconnaissance/surveillance helicopters (RSH) for the Indian Army and IAF kicks off this month, and if two attempts across the last decade haven't thrown up enough dust, indications are that this third effort is all set to be even more interesting.
The two finalists in the last abortive attempt, Airbus Helicopters with the AS550 C3 Fennec and Kamov with the Ka-226T2 Sergei will both compete through respective build partners in India (the latter has a seemingly separate proposal to build the Sergei and Mi-17 V-5s in India.)
U.S. firm Bell Helicopter, which competed in the original effort (that began in 2003) has signalled that it will be re-entering the competition this year through local partners. Livefist learns that Bell Helicopter and an Indian partner will field the Bell 407GT in the new RSH contest.
B.S. Singhdeo, Managing Director, Bell India tells Livefist, "We are not prepared to discuss the details of the RSH; however Bell Helicopter is committed to the India and we are highly interested in the program. Bell Helicopter has the right products to meet the future needs of India’s military."
The 407GT is a militarised version of Bell's 407GX, featuring the Garmin G1000H™ flight deck. Your correspondent was invited to fly in a 407GX at Aero India last month in Bengaluru in which a senior IAF pilot was at the controls for a 20-minute demo flight.
Bell reportedly withdrew from the original competition in 2006 after it was informed that the 407 hadn't satisfactorily demonstrated the three-axis vector maneouver during field evaluation trials. The competition went into the ground a year later when a complaint by Bell on the trials compelled the government to scrap a potential decision to award the contest to Eurocopter. The fresh contest sees another possible face-off between Bell and Airbus.
"In November 2014, Bell Helicopter established Dynamatic Technologies Ltd. as a single source supplier of major airframe cabin assemblies for the Bell 407GX and 407GT. During Aero India, Dynamatic handed over first articles of these aerostructures. Bell Helicopter continues to evaluate potential partners in India to support our local manufacturing footprint," says Singhdeo.
And AgustaWestland? The government's 2014 guidelines on 'dealing with Finmeccanica group of companies in all procurement cases', issued following the VVIP AW101 helicopter controversy, suggest that the light helicopter competition is open to AgustaWestland. It is not clear at this time if AgustaWestland has or will respond (through a partner, of course) to the new 'Make in India' RFI with its AW119 Koala, the platform it fielded in the second abortive procurement attempt.
The MoD has extended its deadline for interest from vendors three times since November last year, actions that speak loud about a desire perhaps for maximum participation. The truth is, two successive aborts have brought with them a measure of damage to confidence in India's ability to see crucial acquisition programmes through. The MoD sees the the light helicopter competition as a fairly uncompl
In a separate but related development, Airbus Helicopter has informed Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (which license builds Alouette-II/IIIs in India) that its inventory of rotor blade kits for the Cheetah and Chetak have been exhausted, and that a previous order will necessarily be the last one.
As Livefist reported recently, the other side the light copter modernisation effort is seeing forward movement too, with HAL's LUH scheduled for a first flight soon.