By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: India will next week take a decision on the domestic and foreign companies eligible to compete for the $3-billion Naval Utility Helicopters contest, for which the Indian Navy had issued an Expression of Interest (EOI) in February 2019.
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the highest decision making body of the Ministry of Defence, will down-select the companies eligible on technical parameters from the list of domestic and foreign companies that have responded to the EOI last year, according to people with direct knowledge of the agenda of the March meeting.
Chaired by Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh, the DAC has as it members the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat; the three chiefs of the army, navy and the air force; and Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar, among the top brass of the ministry.
Once the DAC approves the names of companies to compete in the contest, which is touted as the first programme kicked off under the Defence Procurement Procedure 2016’s (DPP) Strategic Partnership (SP) policy, the Indian Navy will come up with the Request for Proposal (tender in common parlance) to identify the winner of the deal.
If selected, the domestic company — of the four that have responded to the EOI — will be the Strategic Partner that will manufacture the helicopters in India. The foreign company selected as the technology partner — from the three that have responded to the EOI — will transfer the technology for the naval utility helicopter to the winning Strategic Partner company.
The Indian Navy had, few months ago, rejected the response from the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as ineligible to participate in the NUH programme under the SP policy, which the officers argued was for the private sector only.
More over, there were four domestic private sector companies that have responded to the EOI and hence, the programme would not see a single vendor becoming eligible for bidding.
Under the DPP, a single vendor situation in a tender is a ‘no go’ and if such a situation arose in a procurement programme, either the tender is withdrawn or the approval of the Competent Authority — in such cases the Minister of Defence — is required to go ahead with the purchase.
At the fag end of the tenure of the second Manmohan Singh government, the then Minister of Defence, A. K. Antony, had delegated the power to approve ‘single vendor’ tenders to the DAC.
The Indian Navy procurement programme has generated a great deal of international interest, as it would be among the largest number of helicopters being bought at one go by a nation globally.
The navy is also pursuing another helicopter acquisition programme — for 124 Naval Multi Role Helicopters — under the SP policy, which will be progressed soon.
In February, during the visit of United States President Donald J. Trump, India and the US signed a $2.6-billion deal for the Indian Navy to procure 24 MH-60R, a similar category platform, from American giant Lockheed Martin.