The Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) is likely to cancel the national army’s light-utility helicopters (LUH) procurement contract following allegations of bribery.
The move comes after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a case against the army aviation corps brigadier VS Saini and other unknown army officers for allegedly attempting to favour a company competing to win the contract in return for €5m, the Times of India reports.
A CBI spokesperson, Kanchan Prasad, said: "The matter came to notice when an unsigned note was recovered during a search by Italian prosecutors at the residence of Guido Hashcke’s (the alleged middleman in VVIP chopper scam) mother, which allegedly says that the brigadier in-charge of flight evaluation can tilt the decision in the favour of the Italian firm, but was asking for €5m in return"
An unnamed senior defence ministry official was quoted by DNA as saying, ”cancellation of the deal seems imminent.”
An unidentified senior army official said: ”If the government cancels the deal once again, it is going to be a major setback for the preparedness of the army, which is making all efforts to match China’s capabilities on the eastern front.”
Covering procurement of 197 helicopters for replacement of the army’s ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleet, the INR30bn ($482m) project has already been cancelled after being virtually finalised in December 2007.
Widely used for reconnaissance and casualty evacuation operations in forward locations and high-altitude areas, such as Siachen, Ladakh, North Kashmir and the Northeast, the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters have flown 12 to 15 years more than their original airframe life.
The French-built helicopters are considered ‘death traps’, as 12 pilots have died in Cheetah crashes over the past five years.
Image: a light utility helicopter mock up being displayed during Aero India 2009. Photo: courtesy of Jinu.raghavan.