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Boeing AH-64D Apache benefits as India cancels $550 million helicopter tender

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For quite some time the rumour mill had it that the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) was going to scrap the $550 million tender for 22 attack helicopters. Earlier today this rumour was confirmed.

According to a spokesman the tender had to be cancelled since ‘the remaining three companies still participating in the tender were unable to meet the requirements of the tender’.

“The Request for Proposals (RFP) for the 22 attack helicopters have been retracted and cancelled, as the three offers received from foreign defence companies did not meet the Staff Qualitative Requirements set by the government,”

The spokesman also clarified that other tenders such as the $1.5 billion tender for 384 light utility helicopters are not affected by this cancellation.

The cancellation is widely seen as being of direct benefit to Boeing and its AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter with the new tender being seen as giving Boeing a second chance to participate.

India began a competition in May 2008, to procure 22 attack helicopters for its air force as a replacement for the ageing Mil Mi-25 and Mi-35 fleets.

Boeing image. Copyright Boeing Company

India requested a 2.5 tonne twin-engined copter with all-weather, day and night operations, and all-terrain ability. The helicopter is be highly manoeuvrable, able to deploy 20mm turret guns, rockets, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, able to employ air-to-ground, fire-and-forget mode missiles with a range of at least seven kilometres (4.375 miles), equipped with anti-armour capabilities and be capable of operating at high altitudes such as in the mountainous borders India shares with Pakistan, Afghanistan and China in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir. Specifications suiting the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow to a tee.

With a budget unit price of $25 million, the contract called for the first two helicopters to be delivered within two years of contract signing with completion of the contract within three years.

Initially seven companies participated the tender:

  1. Agusta Westland AW129,
  2. Bell AH-1Z SuperCobra,
  3. Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow,
  4. Eurocopter Tiger HAD,
  5. Kamov Ka-50,
  6. Mil Mi-28 NE
  7. Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) Light Combat Helicopter.

By the final leg only Agusta-Westland, Eurocopter and Mil were left in the fray, Bell and Boeing quit the race, Kamov and HAL did not qualify.

Since Bell, ceased production of the AH-1Z Cobra it withdrew. Boeing had requested a two month extension last August to submit a proposal that met all the requirements of the Indian Air Force (IAF) which was denied, upon which Boeing refused to submit a proposal.

The MoD spokesman said that a new tender will be announced soon since the air force aims to modernising the service by the middle of the next decade, but this tender cancellation will definitely delay the 2010 target date of the IAF to begin with the deployment of the new attack helicopters.

Observers and analysts of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are completely baffled. No one has been able to arrive at a conclusive logical explanation for the MoD actions.

By maintaining that the three remaining helicopters do not meet their qualitative requirements the MoD effectively implies that their requirements were (a) unrealistic, or more likely (b) tailored for a specific model that did not made it to the short list.

Clues to the second option being the real reason come from the fact that there is only one in-service helicopter-launched fire-and-forget mode missile WITH a 7 kilometre range in the world today — the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire; which is equipped on the Boeing AH-64D Longbow Apache.

One can safely surmise that the Indian Air Force brass was not happy that the Apache Longbow was no longer in the competition. This move to cancel the ongoing tender and start afresh is clearly intended to give Boeing a second chance. The outcome of the new “tender” appears to be already clear.

Not that I am complaining. Reading about the experiences of the Apache Longbows in Iraq, I have always felt that a squadron of these supremely deadly helicopters, with their armour, chain-gun and night-vision capabilities, would be more than enough to solve the problem of terrorists sneaking over the border from Pakistan to India.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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