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IAF's heavy-lift helicopter tender opened

Posted on Oct 03, 10:37PM | IANS

The defence ministry has opened the bids of the two contestants in Indian Air Force (IAF) competition for heavy-lift helicopters and a decision would soon be taken on the winner based on the life-cycle costs.

Highly placed sources told India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) that both the Russian Mi-26 and the Boeing Chinook Ch47F had qualified in the technical trials and that their financial bids, covering the initial acquisition cost as well as the lifecycle costs, were opened September-end.

The bids were opened in the presence of their representatives, and the winner would be declared based on what is known as the L-1, or the lowest bidder principle. The IAF is looking for 15 heavy-lift helicopters.

Sources said that a decision should take about a couple of months or so, unless one of the vendors has given incomplete replies for which clarifications would be required and that would add to the time needed. "Absence of replies or incomplete replies do happen, leading later to interpretation issues and disputes; so it is best to sort them out right in the beginning," the sources said.

They also said that discussions with the French manufacturer Dassault for finalising the contract for 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) were being held on almost a daily basis and the contract should be finalised and signed by the end of fiscal 2012-13, that is by March 2013.

Representatives of Dassault, which makes and integrates the aircraft, and Thales and Safran (Snecma), the two companies which make the electronic warfare systems and engines respectively, have also been visiting New Delhi and Bangalore regularly for negotiations with IAF, defence ministry and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the lead Indian integrator. The option clause for 63 more MMRCAs would be worked out in due course of time as the negotiations progress.

Interestingly, all the aircraft deals with Russia so far have been on single-vendor, government-to-government basis, and to get a favourable decision in the case of heavy lift competition, the Russians will also have to fulfil the obligatory 30 percent offsets requirement, besides being lower in the costing. If they win, this will be the first aircraft offsets case for them.

The IAF has been using the Mi-26 helicopters for about a quarter century now, but they are outdated in technology, consume too much fuel, are expensive to maintain and their spares also are not easily available. Russia will have to produce newer units with refined technologies anyway for their own or global sales.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing of the US have won orders for 12 C-130J Super Hercules and 10 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and in both these deals, there is a 30 perrcent offsets clause.

The suppliers are given three years to deliver the first units after a contract is signed.

(Gulshan Luthra can be contacted at gulshan.luthra@indiastrategic.in)