R.I.P India's 197 Copter Deal: Magazine Report

The 197 reconnaissance and helicopter surveillance helicopter deal won't go through, says a new magazine report. Chopped For A Second Time happens to be the headline of the report by my network colleague INDIA TODAY deputy editor Sandeep Unnithan in the latest issue of the magazine (first flagged online here). Unnithan reports that there may not be a formal cancellation, but that the deal simply won't be allowed to go through.

This is going to come as a sledgehammer blow to both Eurocopter and Russian Helicopter Co, that have waited over two years since field evaluations for guidance on a result. Worse still, this is a nightmare situation for the Army and IAF which both desperately need light helicopters to replace their near obsolete Alouette-II/III (Cheetahs and Chetaks). What the IAF chief said at yesterday's press conference now has meaning.

Just spoke to officials at both Eurocopter and Russian Helicopter Co at Aero India. Both, as you might imagine, are befuddled. Both say they have reason to believe the competition is still open and is very much still on. Brave face? Well, here's what officials at Eurocopter told me. Their CEO Lutz Bertling, who visited the show this year, met with India's DG Acquisition, who assured him that the "process was still on". Bertling is understood to have communicated to the Indian official that the commercial bids expired in March 2013.

A meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) next week is expected to take up the issue and make a firm decision on where the programme goes.

In December last year, the MoD had asked Eurocopter and RusHeliCo to extend the validity of their bids for 12 months till December 2013. Eurocopter agreed to extend the validity of its commercial bid until March 2013 only, saying that it would not agree to 12 months without "clear visibility" on a decision. Eurocopter officials also confirmed to me in no uncertain terms that they would not agree to an extension of bid validity beyond March 2013 without visibility on where the programme is headed.

The Eurocopter CEO, incidentally, also had a one-on-one discussion with India's junior minister for defence Jitender Singh, who also communicated that a decision would be taken at the DAC next week. Bertling also met the Indian Army's Deputy Chief Lt Gen Narinder Singh, who communicated that investigations into certain allegations pertaining to the involvement of a serving Army officer in malfeasance had been completed, and that the same would be reported to the DAC next week.

Officials at RusHeliCo refused to discuss the programme, but told me that they had no reason to believe that the programme would be scrapped. "There are vested interests trying to destroy the programme because we are expected to win," one Rosoboronexport official said, but wouldn't go into specifics.

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