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Indian Navy to negotiate purchase of multi-role helicopters

New Delhi: The Indian Navy is finally set to open price negotiations with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation for buying 24 Seahawk S-70B shipboard multi-role helicopters (MRHs) for its operational requirements.

Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources told India Strategic defence magazine that although the helicopters were selected in December 2014, there were some issues over cost escalations due to the delay in the procurement process, and the Connecticut, US-based company’s insistence that it could not hold the prices it had offered in 2008. Recently, however, Sikorsky had relented and its team is due to be invited soon for an early conclusion of the price negotiations.

The subject is also likely to be on the agenda during Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar’s visit to Washington on December 9-10.

Notably, the Indian Navy had invited bids in 2008 from Sikorsky for S-70B and European NH Industries (NHI) for NH 90. There was some hesitation in opening the latter’s bid, as Finmeccanina, which got embroiled in controversy over the acquisition of VVIP helicopters for the Indian Air Force (IAF), is a major partner in this European consortium.

Sikorsky accordingly had a walkover, but it asked for a revision in prices as the selection process had taken more than twice the stipulated timeline and the delivery, in any case, has to be three years after the price negotiations conclude and a contract is signed. That is roughly 10 years after its offer was submitted.

Somehow, the MoD repeatedly sought extensions of Sikorsky’s bid, delaying the acquisition process timelines from less than three years to six. Nonetheless, it said there was no provision for cost escalation during the selection and negotiation process.

Meanwhile, in another development, Sikorsky has been acquired by Lockheed Martin (LM) from United Technologies Corporation (UTC). After the completion of the merger process in early November, Sikorsky was shown for the first time as a Lockheed Martin company at the Dubai Airshow on November 8.

As for the current status in negotiations with the Indian Navy, the chief of the naval staff, Admiral Robin Dhowan, when asked about the Seahawks, replied that the process was now in an “advanced stage”.

Notably, the tender, or Request for Proposals (RfP), had sought 16 helicopters with an option for eight more. But Admiral Dhowan had told India Strategic earlier that as the navy was short of these machines, the deal could be for all the 24 machines.

It may be recalled that the navy had originally planned to acquire 54 MRHs, and 16 of these should have come in 2007 as the replacement for the first lot of quarter-century-old British Westland Sea Kings. More were to follow progressively. This has not happened, and the Sikorsky Seahawks are likely to start arriving only from 2019, more than a decade late.

The Sikorsky deal is estimated to be around $1 billion-plus for 16 helicopters but there is no official word yet on prices from either side.

Weapons and sensors will be extra – possibly from other companies but Sikorsky will integrate them in accordance with the contract. The weapon suite will have the capability to deal with both underwater (ASUW or anti-submarine warfare) and ASW (anti- surface-ship warfare). Among the suppliers for radars and weapons should be the US Raytheon and Telephonics as well as French Thales. The power plants (two engines per machine) will be from GE.

It may be noted that the Indian Navy has substantial achievements to its credit for building ships indigenously, and with a three aircraft carrier policy, it will need several hundred helicopters for engaging threats and for the ship to ship or ship to shore communications.

(Gulshan Luthra, IANS)

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