Stratford, USA: Early in the week Stratford-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp reported that the Indian Air Force had selected Italian helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland's EH101 for its Air Headquarters Communications Squadron, which is tasked with the job of ferrying the country's VIPs, including the president, prime minister and other dignitaries. The contract, which is potentially worth $300 million, had the Sikorsky S-92 along with the AgustaWestland EH101, as its main contenders.
"We offered a very capable aircraft and are disappointed by the decision," Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson informed the media on Thursday. "We've requested additional information from the government regarding this decision and intend to continue competing for contracts in India, which we consider to be an important market."
The Communications Squadron of the IAF was formed on 1 November 1947 and has been based at Air Force Station, Palam since its inception. As of 2007 the squadron was operating two Boeings, four executive jets, seven Avros and six helicopters. It has recently been boosted by the arrival of a Boeing Business Jet specially configured for VVIP duties. Two more of these models are due for delivery over the coming three months. (See: First VVIP Boeing aircraft arrives in India, government to sign end user agreement with US)
The IAF had conducted trials of both the Sikorsky and the AgustaWestland helicopters earlier in the year, saying it was likely to purchase four $13 million, 30-passenger medium-lift helicopters, plus eight $25 million, 12-person VIP helicopters.
These helos are expected to be equipped with state-of-the-art, open-architecture gear for encrypted communications by the VIPs, including the prime minister. Other features must also include the ability to fly at night and in bad weather with low vibration and low noise; carry modern sensors and jammers; provide protection against missile threats and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; fly up to 200 kilometres per hour; and also remain operational for 30 years.
The copters will replace Russian Mi-8 helicopters.
Sikorsky and AgustaWestland were asked to carry out no-cost, no-commitment trials by India after a global tender was issued for such helicopters in 2006.
According to reports, Russian helicopter giant, Kamov, was disqualified early on in the game on technical grounds. Air force officials had said then that the contract was likely to be signed before March 2009. (See: Indian Air Force concludes chopper trials for VIP squadron)
Meanwhile, American defence analysts suggested that Sikorsky was indeed facing long odds in winning the IAF contract for a number of reasons. They pointed out that the EH10, though more expensive, was bigger and suited the mission profile, which is to transport VVIPs with a certain measure of comfort. European manufacturers also have decades of experience in dealing with the Indian market even as US firms are just trying to put their foot through the door, they said.