New Delhi: India`s bid to buy 16 multi-role helicopters worth over $1 billion for its Navy has been hit by delays after the defence ministry recently asked the two competing firms to extend their commercial proposals till Dec 31.
Soon after the commercial bids were extended by the two firms, European consortium NH Industries (NHI) wrote to the defence ministry reiterating its objections to letting US company Sikorsky continue in the tender, claiming its product had failed in meeting the requirements.
Defence ministry sources told a news agency here that NH Industries and Sikorsky were asked to extend their commercial bids till December just before the validity of their proposals, made less than two years ago, had expired in July.
NHI has offered its NH90 platform, while Sikorsky is competing with the S70B helicopter.
After the two competing helicopters had qualified the field evaluation trials held November last year, the Indian Navy had submitted its report to the defence ministry, which is now in the process of decision-making.
However, soon after the two companies were asked to extend their bids, NHI`s official Julien Negrel wrote to Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma and other top Indian defence officials questioning the validity of Sikorsky`s bids and its selection after the evaluation trials, claiming it had not complied with the naval staff qualitative requirements (NSQRs) laid down in the tender documents.
This is the second time the NHI had objected to letting Sikorsky continue in the bids, having done so early this year in a letter to Defence Minister AK Antony after its previous communication sent to the defence secretary December last year reportedly got no response.
Sources said the latest NHI letter had wondered if the Indian defence ministry has accorded waivers to the Sikorsky over "non-compliance" with NSQRs during the field evaluation.
The European firm has also asked the defence ministry to confirm the concessions to Sikorsky before it is invited for commercial negotiations.
The letter also sought time of 30 days after such confirmation is offered by the Indian defence ministry for NHI to review its own proposals with regard to the waived NSQRs.
In its earlier letter, NHI had raised questions over the S-70B`s qualifications with regard to at least eight aspects of the NSQRs such as dual redundancy, fitment of fuel tanks, full authority automatic flight control system, fuel reserves at the end of mission, sensor functions and usage monitoring system.
However, the Indian Navy had dismissed these objections, saying NHI was trying to "mislead" the defence ministry on the NSQRs and was "twisting" the parameters, to "unreasonably" delay the tender process.
The navy, in its report, recommended that both firms` helicopters met the NSQRs and hence the selection process could continue.