How VVIP helicopter scam fallout will impact national security


Article as appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on January 3, 2014
Article as appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on January 3, 2014

With the Ministry of Defence (MoD) having announced its decision to cancel the contract with AgustaWestland for 12 AW101 VVIP travel helicopters, the Indian Air Force (IAF) which caters for VVIP travel, is staring at a crisis. As a response, it was informed, a ‘study’ for identifying replacements is being carried out.

The crisis emanates out of the fact that the present mainstay of the VVIP travel is the fleet of Russian Mi8 helicopters which will have completed their entire operational life by March. And with the cancellation announced, there is hardly any time left for a fresh acquisition to take place. A top MoD official admitted, “The road ahead is not going to be easy.”

With time not on the IAF’s side, processes like re-tendering, going in for a single-vendor emergency purchase and even the less-cumbersome Foreign Military Sales (FMS) in which the deal is between two governments and not a private supplier, look increasingly ill-fitted. “While the jury is still out about what we will finally commit to, but for now modifying existing aircrafts may be the only answer. Say we do that, even then there are multiple configurations that need to be taken into account. Agencies like the Special Protection Group (SPG) and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) are being brought on board,” he said.

Additionally it was mentioned, “When we re-modify an aircraft, it is mandatory we re-negotiate with the country of export. This involves additional costs, processes and needless to say its own time.”

Former Western Air Command Chief of the IAF, Air Marshal (Retd) PS Ahluwalia said, “There is little doubt that only the Mi17s and its variants with due modifications can do the job, given the tight spot we find ourselves in. It is a feasible option thought not one which is entirely suitable.”

Following the arrest of the Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi in February 2013, both MoD and the IAF had contemplated this scenario. In March, the IAF top brass had made its position on the rapidly depleting operational life of Mi8s clear to the MoD. But not much has moved. “For the fault of some individuals, the entire system is getting punished and we are foregoing what we desperately are in need of. The MoD should have penalized the wrongdoers and not the process,” said Air Marshal (Retd) Ahluwalia.

The acquisition of VVIP helicopters suffers from another peculiarity. Since in the original tender for the VVIP helicopters, AgustaWestland’s AW101 emerged as the only suitable aircraft edging out Sikorsky, there is no way of going back unless the Qualitative Requirements (QRs) are changed, a proposition unlikely to not raise eyebrows.

Commenting on the situation, Amit Cowshish, former Financial Advisor (Acquisition) in the MoD said, “Modifying existing aircraft is fine but that is being looked at now, why wasn’t it done earlier? There would have been no requirement of a separate tender for VVIP travel then. Legally too the MoD is set to get drawn into a protracted battle since the process of arbitration survives the cancellation of the contract,” said former Financial Advisor (Acquisition) in the MoD Amit Cowshish. He added, “I believe that a more pragmatic approach by the MoD could have been adopted.”Timeline of Events

August 1999: IAF, which relied on Mi8s for VVIP travel sought replacements as the helos couldn’t carry out night flying apart from throwing up several other constraints.

March 2002: Global RFP issued for VVIP travel helicopters in which EC225 of Eurocopter of France emerged as the only suitable aircraft

However, owing to an intervention by the PMO in 2003, a review was done and Operational Requirements modified

September 2006: Fresh RFP issued in which AW101 emerged as the only suitable aircraft

January 2010: Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) gave the go-ahead

February 2010: MoD concluded a contract for 12 AW101 helicopters with AgustaWestland

AS APPEARED AT: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/iaf-may-divert-operational-helos-to-vvip-travel-conducts-study-on-replacements/1/333931.html

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