Thus far, at least two ‘desi’ journalists seem to have insinuated that if the Government of India pushes through a certain procurement contract for a particular piece of hardware (in this case the 12 AgustaWestland AW-101 helicopters for VVIP transportation worth Rs3,546.17 crore or 560 million Euros) with efficiency and alacrity, then there’s something definitely unusual and fishy about this whole exercise, since these two ‘desi’ journalists are obviously of the view that such procurement exercises (i.e. the efficiency and alacrity with which the Govt of India pushed through the purchase of the AW-101s) are unusual simply because such “efficiency and alacrity” are “totally lacking in the purchase of anything for the armed forces”. In addition, it has been alleged by one of these two ‘desi’ journalists (see: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-1mtH4Z4zFTY/T0h_8z-wo3I/AAAAAAAAI3g/wMfLd2RCh1s/s1600/img955.jpg & http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-WKofKuQxu64/T0h_8grx7QI/AAAAAAAAI3Y/0pygl4aKNt4/s1600/img957.jpg) that the AW-101 fails ‘to make the cut’ by not complying with the Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQR), especially the 40 mandatory parameters laid down by the Indian Air Force (IAF). Specifically, it has been alleged that: the AW-101 does not come equipped with a missile approach warning system (MAWS); the AW-101 does not come with a product warranty, which should be either three years or 900 flight-hours; and that the selected VVIP transportation helicopter ought to have flown in altitudes above 17,000 feet in order to transport VVIPs out to India’s remote areas. Needless to say, all such allegations are manifestly false and deeply mischievous, as the following data will reveal.
Requests for Proposals (RFP) or global tenders were floated December 2006 by India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) to seven helicopter manufacturers, and all responses had been submitted by February 2007. Following this, the H-92 Super Hawk from US-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp and the AW-101 from Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland Helicopters were shortlisted. However, both the H-92 and AW-101 had performance parameter deviations, with AgustaWestland having one deviation short than Sikorsky Aircraft. The IAF had specified that the helicopters on offer be at least twin-engined and fitted with a SATCOM-based communications suite; have glass cockpits and digital flight controls; come equipped with automatic flight management systems and a rear-entry ramp; incorporate additional ballistics hardening of the airframe; come fitted with a main-cum-tail rotor de-icing system using heated blades; have an integral emergency flotation system plus twin wide sliding cargo doors; be equipped with wire-strike and lightning-strike protection systems; have an on-board health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) to facilitate predictive maintenance practices; mount a new-generation on-board defensive aids suite comprising radar/laser warning receivers-cum-missile approach warning systems, chaff/flare countermeasures dispensers, plus mountings for accommodating miniaturised directional infra-red/laser jammers at a future date; and feature a high tail-boom since it would allow the VVIP’s motorised vehicles to come right next to the rear-ramp and not expose' the protected persons to a threat from anyone in the vicinity.
Although the IAF conducted on-site flight-trials of both the H-92 and AW-101 between January 14 and 19, 2008, it was only in December 2009 that the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCS) approved the procurement of 12 AW-101s from AgustaWestland. Subsequently, a contract was signed by the MoD and AgustaWestland Ltd on February 8, 2010. The contract included an extensive five-year logistics support service and initial aircrew and technician training (see: http://www.agustawestland.com/news/indian-air-force-signs-560-million-contract-12-aw101-helicopters-strengthening-agustawestland). Out of these 12 AW-101s, eight will be configured for VVIP transportation and the remaining four helicopters will be the non-VVIP version for usage by the Special Protection Group’s Counter-Sniper Group and Counter-Assault Group. The first six AW-101s will be delivered in the latter half of this year, and all deliveries would be completed by 2013.
Let us now address and disprove in detail the allegations and insinuations that were listed out in the very beginning. Firstly, there’s the allegation/insinuation of this deal being pushed through with remarkable “efficiency and alacrity”. This is a blatant lie, pure and simple. The entire AW-101 procurement exercise—starting with the issuance of RFPs right up to contract signature—lasted 38 months. Compare this with the procurement exercise, initiated in late 1982, for procuring the refurbished aircraft carrier INS Viraat, 20 AgustaWestland-built Sea King Mk42B helicopters, 25 BAE Systems-built Sea Harrier FRS Mk51 and five T Mk60 V/STOL combat aircraft, which took only NINE MONTHS to negotiate, finalise and ink—a record that remains unparalleled till this day and is worth emulating.
Secondly, regarding the MAWS, it needs to be stated that while sensors associated with any helicopter’s integrated defensive aids suite (IDAS)—such as radar/laser warning receivers and countermeasures dispensers suite are regarded as standard fit, items like MAWS, DIRCM and active continuous wave/pulse jammers are not and are therefore either supplied as customer-furnished equipment to the helicopter manufacturer for on-board installation, or are retrofitted in-country by the helicopter operator at an approved MRO facility. In the AW-101’s case the IDAS includes a combined radar/laser warning receiver package that includes the Tarang Mk3 (developed by the DRDO’s Bengaluru-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment—DARE—and built by Bharat Electronics Ltd) and a laser warning receiver from SaabTech of Sweden, the AAR-60(V)2 MILDS-F MAWS from Germany-based Cassidian, and chaff/flare countermeasures dispensers from Vinten of UK. The photo below shows the installation areas of the AW-101’s combined radar/laser warning receiver and MAWS.
In fact, this very IDAS suite has also been selected for installation on the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd-built Dhruv Mk4 (Rudra) helicopter gunship and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), and will also be retrofitted in-country on to a third of the 139 Mi-17V-5 armed utility helicopters now being delivered to the IAF by Russia’s Tatarstan-based Kazan Helicopter Plant. These retrofitted Mi-17V-5s will also be equipped with ELBIT Systems-built C-MUSIC missile countermeasures turrets (see photo below for the installation area).
Thirdly, regarding the so-called product warranty, which should be either three years or 900 flight-hours, this is in fact the guaranteed product-support package (since product warranty for any type of aircraft never exceeds a period of 18 months) that AgustaWestland has generously extended up to a five-year period through AirWorks Pvt Ltd, its India-based MRO facility. Fourthly, regarding the service ceiling issue, the AW-101 is capable of going up to 15,000 feet ASL, while the H-92 can attain 14,000 feet, and the Mi-17V-5 19,690 feet. However, in reality, the AW-101s will never be required to fly above 10,000 feet simply because no India-born VVIP worth his/her salt will ever bother to spend two successive weeks for mandatory accilimitising in the event of he/she wanting to visit high-altitude areas located between 10,000 feet and 20,000 feet. This is because anyone wanting to go to such altitudes for the very first time needs to gradually acclimatise above the height of 10,000 feet by spending six days for Stage 1 at 10,000 feet, followed by four days for Stage 2 at 12,000 feet and four days for Stage 3 at 15,000 feet.
Lastly, a word about the Mi-17V-5, which has been touted as being a cheaper alternative to the AW-101. It needs to be noted that firstly, all members of the Mi-8 and Mi-17 families make use of only a single-channel hydraulics-control system under which the hydraulic actuators of all four control circuits are mounted in a single hydraulic package on the main gearbox, together with other parts of hydraulic system. In all Western (and HAL-built) twin-engined helicopters, however, such an arrangement is viewed as unacceptable from a flight safety point-of-view, and they therefore use a dual-channel hydraulics-control system. Secondly, by January 2008, there wasn’t even a single Mi-17 anywhere equipped with an IDAS. For it was only in December 2007 that the US Defense Department inked a contract worth US$322-million for 22 Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant-built Mi-17s (meant for Iraq) under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system, under which these Mi-17s were to be fitted with Honeywell-supplied cockpit avionics/instrumentation, FLIR Systems’ AN/AAQ-22 Star Safire FLIR pod, identification-friend-or-foe system with encryption, AAR-60(V)2 MILDS-F MAWS, and VHF/UHF/HF radios. While US-based ARINC Inc is the prime contractor and systems integrator, the Mi-17s were supplied by Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant to Air Freight Aviation, a Russian company based in the United Arab Emirates that undertakes all retrofit work under ARINC Inc’s supervision. Therefore, early disqualification of the Mi-17 for the IAF’s VVIP transportation helicopter requirement was a foregone conclusion as far back as early 2010.—Prasun K. Sengupta