Le Bourget, Paris: Eurocopter will field the AS550 C3 Fennec military helicopter for trials in India's Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) joint tender for the Indian Army and air force. In a previous tender, since cancelled, it had fielded an AS350 civilian version of the helicopter, which had drawn protests from other contenders.
At the Paris Air Show, Norbert Ducrot, Eurocopter's senior vice-president for sales and customer relations in Asia Pacific, revealed that flight tests for the LUH tender were likely to commence shortly.
"This time, we have a military version of the Fennec that is ready to go on trial in India. We are waiting for the instructions and we expect the process to begin shortly. We do not know when a contract will be awarded but we are sure that we have the best product for India," he adds.
Last time around, in December 2007, the Indian ministry of defence had even announced Eurocopter as the winner of the tender and plans were afoot to sign the contract in the presence of visiting French president Nicolas Sarkozy, until shrill protests from the Americans forced the MoD to withdraw the award.
Eurocopter clarified that its civilian version, the AS350, was identical to the AS550 military version "in terms of airframe, systems, main gear box, rotor head, blades, engine and performances".
The company was subsequently cleared of any wrong-doing.
Of the 197 light utility helicopters sought by the two services, 133 are for the army and 64 for the air force. The MoD expects that deliveries will begin by the end of 2010 after year-long trials.
The contract is worth a potential $750 million.
State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd has been asked to develop and manufacture another 187 light utility helicopters.
There is a separate tender out for 22 twin engine attack helicopters for the Indian Air Force, for which RFPs have been invited from AgustaWestland A129, Bell AH-1Z Cobra, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Eurocopter Tiger, Kamov Ka-52 and Mil Mi-28.
The navy is also likely to firm up plans for anti-submarine warfare and naval reconnaissance helicopters.
India has also ordered 80 Mil Mi-17-V5 transport helicopters, and has commenced induction of the HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter.