A supposedly $1 billion tender to buy 16 Multi-Role Helicopters for the Indian Navy is hanging in balance after the Defence Ministry decided to ask the two competing global firms to extend their commercial bids till December 31, 2012.
According to Defence Ministry sources the two companies -- American Sikorsky and European consortium NH Industries -- were asked to extend their bids in July this year, after over one-and-half years of bidding process in which their products -- S70B and NH90 -- were evaluated in field trials by November 2011.
However, soon after the commercials bids of the two companies were extended, NHI has reiterated its complaint to the Defence ministry that Sikorsky's platform has not met the naval staff qualitative requirements mentioned in the tender documents.
According to sources, 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 on July 26.
But, this is not the first time NH Industries has lodged a complaint in this regard with the Defence ministry.
Late last year, after the field evaluation trials were over, NH Industries fired its first salvo to Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma claiming that the Sikorsky platform had not met the standards set in the tender documents on at least eight parameters.
However, after it did not receive any response from the Defence ministry, it again followed up its complaint with a letter to Defence Minister AK Antony on similar lines of its earlier arguments that S70B had failed to meet the requirements of the Indian Navy.
But, on an intimation from Antony, the Indian Navy wrote back that both the platforms had met the parameters set in the evaluation trials and that the tender process should be carried on to its logical conclusion.
It had also claimed that the NH Industries' complaint was a diversionary tactics to delay the tender.
However, in July this year, soon after the commercial bids were extended till December, NH Industries again wrote to Shashi Kant Sharma asking him to confirm if India had provided any waiver to Sikorsky on its platform's standard vis-a-vis the staff qualitative requirements.
In the letter, NH Industries official Julien Negrel asked the Defence ministry to confirm the waivers to Sikorsky and if so, to allow for a 30-day time for the European consortium to reevaluate its proposals based on NH90 on those waivers.
Among the question raised by NH Industries on Sikorsky are over its compliance with regard to 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.
The new war of words between NH Industries on one side, Sikorsky on the other and the Indian Defence ministry and navy is threatening to derail an early decision on acquiring the much needed MRH to replace the ageing 1980s induction Sea King helicopters that are virtually ground due to lack of spares.
The Indian Navy had about a month ago floated a $1-billion tender for 56 utility helicopters that are to operate on its warships and which would replace its ageing Chetak fleet of choppers.