Antony had questioned IAF plans for VVIP chopper trials

In VVIP chopper deal, Defence Minister A K Antony had raised questions over IAF`s plans to hold field evaluation trials of Anglo-Italian AW-101 and American Sikorsky S-92 choppers not in India.

New Delhi: In the VVIP chopper deal, Defence Minister A K Antony had initially raised questions over IAF`s plans to hold the field evaluation trials of the Anglo-Italian AW-101 and American Sikorsky S-92 choppers in their home bases and not in Indian conditions.
The Defence Procurement Board (DPB) had also asked the IAF to review its decision in this regard and test the two choppers in Indian conditions, Government sources told PTI here.

The Air Headquarters, however, told the Defence Ministry that the choppers were available for trials at the home bases of the vendors and bringing them to India would result in a delay of at least nine months in their procurement, they said.

It was only after the IAF put across the argument about the delay in procurement process, the Minister and the DPB gave a go-ahead for the trials to be conducted outside India, they said.

Antony and the Ministry seemed to be of the view that operational conditions in the UK and the US could not match those in India which includes hot deserts, humid plains and high altitude areas such as the Siachen Glacier and the Ladakh region, they said.

The trials of AgustaWestland helicopter was carried out in the UK while the Sikorsky chopper was tested in the US from 16 January 2008 to February 2008.

Soon after testing of the helicopters, a Field Evaluation Trial team submitted its report in April 2008 and recommended AW-101 helicopter of AgustaWestland for induction into IAF.

IAF officials confirmed that queries were raised by the Defence Minister and the DPB over the venue of trials but said such a step would have resulted in delays in the procurement of the choppers, which were required for the VVIPs.

The IAF is also party to the decision for increasing the number of helicopters to be purchased in the deal from eight to 12, the sources said.

In 2009, when the Ministry was discussing the final price of 12 choppers with AgustaWestland, the Air Headquarters also recommended procuring additional equipment such as the Traffic Collusion Avoidance System (TCAS-II) and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) at the last minute.

The addition of these equipment in the procurement list had resulted in an additional burden of around Rs 100 crore on the public exchequer, they said.

At present, the deal has been put on hold by the Defence Ministry after allegations of payment of kickbacks to the tune of Rs 362 crore by the Anglo-Italian firm for swinging the deal in its favour.

Soon after the arrest of former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi by the Italian authorities, Defence Minister A K Antony had ordered a CBI probe into the matter.

The CBI has already filed an FIR in the matter and has questioned former IAF Chief S P Tyagi and his three cousins for their alleged roles in swinging the deal in favour of the Anglo-Italian firm.

The Defence Ministry is also in touch with Italian authorities and Finmeccanica for getting access to official documents related to the case.

Antony has also initiated the process to cancel the deal by issuing a show-cause notice to Finmeccanica asking its response on the charges made against it and as to why the deal should not be cancelled.