Friday, July 31, 2009

India to get 12 EH/AW-101 helicopters

The multi-million dollar deal to procure the 12 EH/AW-101 helicopters, manufactured by Italian aviation major AgustaWestland, is in the concluding stages now, say defence ministry sources. "The Cabinet Committee on Security will have to give the final nod before the contract is inked," said a source. This will be the third major deal in recent years to ensure Indian netas and other VVIPs can travel in fully-secure comfort in and around the country. First, the Rs 727-crore deal for five mid-size Embraer 135BJ Legacy jets was inked in September 2003. Then, the 937-crore contract for three Boeing Business Jets (BBJs), with advanced self-protection suites to guard against missiles and other threats, was signed in October 2005. With the Legacy jets and BBJs already inducted, the VVIPs will also get the 12 helicopters to travel around in style. This, incidentally, comes at a time when the upgrade of the US presidential helicopter fleet is embroiled in a funding controversy.
Though not as high-tech as Barack Obama's "Marine One", the call sign of the US Marine Corps helicopter which ferries the US President, the Indian EH-101 helicopters will have self-defence systems like missile-approach warners, chaff and flare dispensers and directed infra-red electronic counter-measures to protect the VVIPs on board. The new helicopters will replace ageing Russian-origin Mi-8s and Mi-17s being operated by IAF's elite Communication Squadron, which ferries around the President and PM, just like the Legacy jets have replaced the old HS-748 Avros and the BBJs the two 737-200 aircraft bought in 1983. The AW-101 helicopters were pitted against the American Sikorsky's S-92 Superhawks during field trials held last year, overseen by both IAF and SPG.
The AW-101, which can carry around 40 combat troops but will ferry 10 passengers in the VVIP configuration, and has three engines for better power and safety, was found more suitable. One particular SPG requirement was that the helicopters have "a high tail boom'' since it would allow the VVIP cars to come right next to the rear exit staircase and not "expose'' the protected persons to a threat from anyone in the vicinity. Moreover, the AW-101 was found to be a rugged helicopter, with crashworthy and damage-tolerant features, capable of hovering even in winds over 80 kmph. "We also wanted a helicopter with a service-ceiling of over 4.5 km and capable of operating at night,'' said an official.

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