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AgustaWestland Controversy Emerges from the Dust of Aero India 2013

By By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor | March 1, 2013
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Left to right, Vijraya Kumar, general manager of RWR&DC for HAL;
Maj. Gen. PK Bharali, VSM ADG, Indian Army Aviation; RK Tyagi,
chairman of HAL; and Lt. Gen. Narendra Singh, DCOAS (P&S).

Helicopters were much in the news at the 9th Aero India show, the biennial event held at the Yelahanka Air Base on the outskirts of Bangalore from Feb. 6-10, 2013. While there are certainly enough helicopter procurement projects progressing at various speeds in chameleon-like forms, some of the headlines were made after the event had closed.

The sudden arrest of Finmeccanica chairman and CEO Giuseppe Orsi on Tuesday, Feb. 12 in Italy on corruption charges came amid ongoing reports that AgustaWestland’s successful bid to supply 12 AW101 helicopters to the IAF for VVIP roles during Orsi’s tunure of CEO at Finmeccanica’s helicopter subsidiary was being investigated.


The first three aircraft have already been delivered but India’s defense ministry has announced that it intends to cancel the $748-million deal and has initiated its own investigation through the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). At time of writing, AgustaWestland’s current CEO Bruno Spagnolini was also under house arrest. Orsi has now reportedly resigned his leadership at Finmeccanica as well as his board directorship. The company’s board of directors moved swiftly to appoint Alessandro Pansa as Orsi’s replacement with the title of CEO and COO.

Former Finmeccanica chairman and
CEO Giuseppe Orsi in a corporate photo.

This development is bound to have a consequential knock-on effect for the international aerospace community as they continue to search for potentially lucrative orders. As if this was not enough, there had been a sober warning from the Indian Minister for Defence, AK Anthony, even before the crowds had gathered on the first day. He directly addressed the question of India’s financial muscle to continue to spin out procurement projects. He argued that while India’s military “will not cut the expenditure on operational preparedness,” there would not a major increase in the defense budget anytime soon.

In fact this may be more corporate strategic rather then financially enforced tactic. While spending delays can be blamed on the global economic situation, it could also give India’s manufacturing industry more time to gear-up for the expected increase in spending across the board when it comes. India’s burning ambition is to grow its national capability to design, develop and manufacture across the board and in spite of HAL’s obvious status and success, it is becoming obvious that it is not sufficient on its own. One comment overheard at Aero India was that India “needed more than one HAL.” In fact, during a media briefing on the second day of the show HAL’s chairman Tyagi (himself referenced in the AW101 investigation) was asked by several journalists why his company seemed to be taking on more and more projects while others continued to see delay and a lack of rapid development. His reply concluded that it was an exciting time for the company with many opportunities, which largely dodged the question.

HAL Light Combat Helicopter.

The Indian defense requirement is for at least 900 to 1,000 helicopters, although the process to acquire these continues to be dogged by controversy of various forms. Industrialists at the show who did not wish to be named said it was a very difficult market to penetrate and that even after supposed “official” procurement announcements are made, the “goalposts” can still change.

At the end of 2012 the Indian Air Force named Boeing as the L1 vendor for the acquisition of 15 the latest CH-47F Chinooks and 22 AH-64E Apaches ($1.4 billion) ahead of Russian Mi-26T2 and Mi-28 Night Hunters. Final contract negotiations have still to be completed.

The competition that has the interest of many helicopter OEMs is requirement for 197 light reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters (RSH) for the Army and Air Force. These will replace the aged and obsolete Chetak and Cheetah helicopters that have served Indian forces so well, but need to be replaced as a matter of great urgency. The replacements need to be suitable for high altitude tasks supporting the army as well as other general multi role missions. There are two main contenders, Eurocopter and Kamov, who have been playing a waiting game after numerous time extensions on their bids. Flight trials were conducted last year but recent comments before the airshow by IAF Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne hinted that the delay shows no sign being resolved quickly.

Home Advantage

Aero India is considered to be home “turf” for HAL with perhaps the highlight of the organization’s participation was the hand-over ceremony of the first Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), the Rudra, to the Indian Army.

Indian Air Force Sarange team during an air display
on the first day of Aero India 2013.

HAL Chairman RK Tyagi and Managing Director Shri Soundara Rajan hosted the event, with senior guests from the Army including Lt. Gen. Narendra Singh, Deputy Chief of the Army Staff and Maj. Gen. PK Bharali, ADG Army Aviation. Gen. Singh accepted aircraft IA-2101, which had received its initial operating certification (IOC) at the beginning of the month, over five years since the first flight of the helicopter. Tyagi said that India had now joined an elite international band of manufacturers that could “design, develop, manufacture and certify” a helicopter of this type.

The Rudra’s weapons systems comprise a 20mm turret gun, 70mm rockets and Mistral II air-to-air and air-to-ground guided weapons. It has apparently been an uphill struggle to integrate multiple weapon systems simultaneously on the helicopter, with the complex assignment involving four major groups of systems and weapons. Participating nations include Israel, France, Belgium, South Africa, Germany, Italy and the U.S., according to P. Soundara Rajan, managing director of HAL’s helicopter division. More than 14 miles of cables were laid and hundreds of hours of flight and ground tests were carried out, he explained.

Aero India 2013 featured a number of helicopters and
aircraft on static display.

Sighting systems, such as electro-optical pod and helmet-pointing systems, have been integrated to augment target-aiming capabilities. The Rudra has a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and thermal imaging sights interface, integrated defensive aids suite (IDAS) and an automatic flight control system. It is to be equipped with anti-tank guided missiles, which apparently have not yet been chosen.

The Rudra is the Mk-IV variant of HAL’s light combat helicopter family and is powered by two Shakti engines (a joint venture between HAL and Turbomecca. The first 20 aircraft will go into service with the Indian Army and according to officials, will be able to operate up to 20,000 feet in India’s mountainous regions.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) Sarang display team held an aerial demonstration of HAL’s Dhruv. HAL’s light combat helicopter (LCH) was also on static display as was an armed rocket-version of the Russian Mil-17V5. India has recently signed an agreement to take delivery of a further 70 Mi-17V-5’s to add to the fleet it already operates.

HAL Rudra Advanced Light
Helicopter (ALH) on display.


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