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.”
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.”
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.
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