India’s private sector firm Tata Power SED, part of the giant Tata Group, has won the prestigious defence contract involving the modernization of thirty Indian Air Force (IAF) airbases across the country. Tata Power’s Strategic Electronics Division (Tata Power SED) has won this $ 243.11 million contract through competitive global tender and it is the largest ever defence contract grabbed by a private player.
The project involving the modernization of the IAF airbases is called Modernization of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) and this will be first phase of the project. As per the guidelines of the contract, Tata Power SED has 42 months to execute this project which is of considerable strategic importance to the nation. MAFI will enable next-generation aircraft to operate from these modernized airbases.
As per the plan, the 30 IAF airbases that will be modernised under MAFI include eight key airfields along the Sino-Indian border such as Chabua, Tezpur and Hashimara. Tata Power SED will execute the MAFI project beginning with Bhatinda airbase in the state of Punjab. Highly advanced Air Traffic Management systems are to be installed besides Category-2 airfield lighting systems and hi-tech navigational aids that will enable flying operations at night and in adverse weather. The modernization is to include- supply, testing, integration & sustenance of Instrument Landing System (ILS); Distance Measuring Equipments (DME) ; -Digital VHF Omni Range (DVOR) ; Tactical Air Navigation System (TACAN); Air Traffic Management System (ATM) and CAT 2 Airfield Lighting system on a turnkey basis.
According to Indian Defence Ministry, the modernization of the IAF airbases by Tata SED will be followed by MAFI Phase II contract for refurbishing another 28 airbases. The current contract has an option clause, which allows the ministry to invite Tata Power SED to execute the Phase II of MAFI at a pre-determined rate. However, the defence ministry has not yet announced the award of this contract.
The MAFI project was coveted by various national and international firms and has involved lot of competition and hype ever since the vendors submitted bids in 2008. BEL - Bharat Electronics Ltd. (with a bid of $286 million), Jupiter Strategic Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Pet Aviation Systems, TATA Power SED ,Terma of the United Kingdom and Selex Sistimi Intergrati SPA of Italy participated in the Tender. The ministry had opened their commercial bids in August 2009. However, one of the bidders, Italian giant Selex Sistemi Integrati, petitioned the court after its price bid of $ 253.55 million narrowly lost to Tata Power SED’s winning quote of $ 243.11 million. In fact, Selex had legally challenged the ministry’s decision and cited in its petition to the court that contract had been improperly awarded and that Tata SED had no technical capability and experience for the MAFI project. Selex’s plea was rejected by the courts.
According to Tata Power SED officials, the contract won against a global defence tender of defence ministry is a pivotal moment for increasing private sector participation in Indian defence sector. The Tata Group, through its firms, has been working closely working with Ministry of Defence and defence public sector units for four decades to provide state-of-the-art solutions to Indian Armed Forces.