AS565 Panther (Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin) medium-weight multi-purpose twin-engine helicopter
New Delhi: Having received responses from over a dozen companies, the Indian Navy has decided to take only new utility helicopters on lease for its warships, and from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), to shore up its critical capability gaps in this area.
The Navy has been desperate to replace its Chetak fleet of 1960s vintage with new naval utility helicopters (NUH), but its plans to acquire 111 such choppers under the strategic partnership has run into rough waters because of a number of reasons.
To circumvent this, the Navy had decided to go in for leasing of a certain number of helicopters, for a two-year period, to meet the immediate critical requirement for choppers that are utilised for multiple roles, including search and rescue, casualty evacuation and low-intensity maritime operations, besides torpedo drops.
Accordingly, the Navy had in October last year sent out feelers to over a dozen companies, including Indian firms, seeking to know what they can offer, sources in the defence and security establishment said.
The companies included foreign OEMs and Indian operators such as Pawan Hans, Air Safa and Aryan Aviation, besides top corporate houses who have their own helicopter wings. The Navy also sought information from various embassies such as that of the United Kingdom.
Incidentally, the Navy sought details for leasing of 24 choppers from the Indian operators while seeking information on 12-16 from the foreign OEMs.
The firms responded and the leasing cost cited varied from as low as Rs 40 lakh per month for each chopper to Rs 3.4 crore, the sources said.
RFI To Be Issued Soon
Critics of this process said the Navy had sought information from all including those who had just two helicopters and hence got itself into a convoluted process without taking into account whether the companies had the financial and technical capability to offer specialised helicopters to the force and also maintain them.
However, the Navy sources said unlike the leasing for drones that was done easily since there was only one company in question, the force needed to reach out to all to know what exactly is available in the market.
Talking about the huge variance in the bid amounts and fear that those who gave a costing of mere Rs 40 lakh might win if the concept of lowest bidder is taken into consideration, the sources said multiple criteria is kept in mind and the steps taken until now were just a process to understand what the market can offer.
Having gone through the responses, they added, the force will now come out with a detailed request for information (RFI) that will be sent out to OEMs since it has been decided that the Navy will lease only “new helicopters”, and since the process will also involve substantial investment in maintenance and repair facilities.
“New helicopters” mean the Navy will go in for leasing from OEMs and not any of the Indian operators whose helicopters are already flying in civilian space.
The sources did accept that unlike at the time of leasing of drones, the whole process of which was completed in two months, the helicopter matter is taking time since there are multiple players.
While European firm Airbus, which is offering its AS565 MBe naval version of the Panther family of helicopters, is considered to be the front-runner for both leasing and the overall plan for 111 NUHs, Navy sources said it is too early to speculate on who will bag the contract.