New Delhi: Reports appearing in national media suggest that Eurocopter may have bagged the Indian Army's much-awaited $550 million deal for 197 modern light helicopters.
According to a report in the latest issue of the defence and foreign affairs related, India Strategic magazine, the army has opted for Eurocopter's AS 550 C3 Fennec over the Bell Helicopter's Bell 407 after extensive trials in hot, humid and high altitude conditions in Rajasthan, Punjab and Kashmir, including Siachen, acknowledged as the highest battlefield in the world.
The Army's tender is intended to replace the aged 1970's fleet of Chetak and Cheetah helicopters in an attempt to modernize and expand the Army Aviation Corps (AAC) in line with current and future rapid mobility battlefield requirements.
The report suggests that Eurocopter will supply 60 helicopters in a fly-away condition, from its plants in France and Germany, while the balance 137 units will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at its Bangalore facility.
The report also quotes company sources as saying that while it would take up to three years to supply the lot to be manufactured in Europe, assembly lines would be set up simultaneously at HAL to start manufacture in India under the Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreement.
According to the report, commercial negotiations between Eurocopter, a subsidiary of aerospace major European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS), and the ministry of defence (MoD) are slated to begin this month, which will also work out the weapons and electronic warfare package to be incorporated into the rotorcraft. The report says that a formal contract would be signed at the conclusion of these talks.
If substantiated, the Eurocopter deal would be the second major helicopter deal signed by India, after the Indian Air Force's follow-on order for 80 Mi 17 IV medium lift helicopters from Russia last year.
The Chetaks and Cheetahs are variants of the French Alouette. The Indian Army deploys some 350 of this rotorcraft, of over 600 currently in service. The other numbers are in service with the Indian Air Force (IAF), Navy and Coast Guard. The Allouette's manufacturer, Aerospatiale, incidentally, is today part of the Eurocopter firm.
Eurocopter, thanks to earlier connections through Aerospatiale, already has a strong relationship with HAL. The two companies not only have an agreement to co-develop business, but EADS, Eurocopater's parent concern, supplies parts for the slightly bigger HAL-made Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv. EADS also manufactures the Ariane rockets used periodically by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for its small payload launches.
In turn, HAL has a contract to provide 600 sets of doors for various Airbus aircraft, of which it has already delivered over 300. HAL has also produced parts for the A320 nose undercarriage and is shortly due to start production of A340 emergency doors.