New Delhi: India and European consortium, Eurocopter, are expected to enter final negotiations for the acquisition of 197 helicopters for the Indian Army, in a deal estimated to be worth close to $600 million, according to news reports. The report comes on the back of earlier reports in April that US defence department officials had lodged a protest with their Indian counterparts about transparency procedures in defence procurement. Apparently they realized very late that they had lost out on the contract to Eurocopter.
Eurocopter is a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic, Defence and Space (EADS) company and had been in the running for the contract, for the supply of 197 helicopters to the Indian Army's Army Aviation Corps, with its AS 550 C 3 Fennec. It was up against the armed version of Bell helicopter's civilian model 407, the ARH-70, which has been facing trouble with its production schedule. Bell has just petitioned the US Army for another extension.
Earlier reports had indicated that Eurocopter plans to supply 60 helicopters off the shelf from its plant in France, while India's state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) would make another 137 helicopters under licence. It is being given to understand that Eurocopter will transfer technology, and also, invest 30 per cent of the total value of the deal under India's new defence procurement policy.
The Army will be using the choppers for surveillance, medium transport and casualty evacuation.
According to Eurocopter, the Fennec currently represents the best transport / radius of action trade-off of any helicopter in its class. In just an hour, it can transport 25 commandos 20 km, at altitudes of up to 4,000 meters at ISA temperatures, and up to 3,500 meters at ISA +20°C.
In its attack configuration, the AS 550 C3 Fennec can carry a gun, rockets, or machine guns. Its stability, manoeuvrability and low detectability make it an excellent platform. According to Eurocopter, when armed with a 20 mm axial gun or with two rocket launchers, it can perform 2 hours and 45 minutes of tactical flight missions with 20 minutes fuel reserve.
In its anti-tank configuration, it can be equipped with TOW missiles, which are part of the Helitow sighting system, and can operate both day and night. When armed with 4 missiles, this aircraft can perform a tactical flight mission lasting 2 hours 30 minutes, both day and night, and still have a fuel reserve of 20 minutes.
The Fennec range also offers twin-engine land versions in the AS 555 UN and AN, which have take-off weights of 2,600 kg. These aircraft make use of new-generation Turbomeca Arrius 1A turbo-shaft engines, which are digitally controlled. And just like their single-engine counterparts, they can be armed with a wide variety of weapons.
The single and twin-engine versions can also perform complementary missions, such as the pilot training. Other complementary missions include sling transport, cargo transport, medical evacuations, and SAR missions.