Navy's copter plan whirs out of control.
As the navy gears up to celebrate 60 years of naval aviation in May, the force is proud to fly the newly inducted Boeing P- 8I, the long- range reconnaissance aircraft, and the Mig- 29K carrier- borne combat jets.
In the coming years, it is going to add to its sea fleet a whole range of new frigates and destroyers but it will not have helicopters to operate from these unless urgent purchases are made.
The navy in 2008 proposed to include Israeli companies for the sensor upgradation programme for 17 Sea King helicopters, bought from AgustaWestland, but faced resistance from the manufacturer.
The navy claimed it was forced to shop for other vendors after AgustaWestland failed to provide product support following India's nuclear tests in 1998. There are serious operational issues in keeping the Sea King fleet afloat.
The navy wants to buy 16 multi- role helicopters in the first lot to replace the Sea Kings, which are nearing the last leg of their life.
The competition is between NHIndustries' NH90 and Sikorsky 70B. Even if the contract is finalised this year, the aircraft will not start arriving before 2016 by when the Sea Kings will be overstretched as the commercial negotiations are yet to start. . The navy's plan to buy 56 naval light utility helicopters for which bids have been invited from all the leading helicopter makers AgustaWestland, Bell, Boeing, Eurocopter, Kamov and Sikorsky too has run into delay.
The light utility helicopters are meant to replace the Chetaks, which are facing serious safety issues. India is probably the only navy in the world to operate single- engine Chetaks for maritime role.
With AgustaWestland getting involved in a bribery scandal in the sale of VVIP helicopter AW101 to the Indian Air Force, the company is facing the prospect of being blacklisted by the defence ministry. The possibility is likely to impact the naval procurement programme as well.
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