Saturday, December 5, 2009

MoD bid to replace Cheetah helicopters may finally take off

After a delay of more than a year, the procurement process for a crucial new light helicopter, which will replace the ageing Cheetah choppers, will finally resume in March with the Defence Ministry finally calling five shortlisted contenders for field trials.

The procurement is several years behind schedule. A tender was cancelled in 2007 after various discrepancies emerged in the selection process and the government again put the procurement process on hold for close to a year as it failed to take a decision on carrying out trials. Sources said the ministry this week called all qualifying contenders for trials to procure 197 helicopters for the Army and the IAF at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore. However, trials will be completed only by 2011 and a contract for a new helicopter fleet is not likely to be signed before 2012.

By conservative estimates, the first of the new helicopters are not expected to arrive before 2014, more than five years behind schedule. In the meantime, IAF and Army will continue to depend on Cheetah choppers, which are of the 1970’s vintage, to carry medicines, food and evacuate troops.

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