In case you haven't been following the Indian Air Force's effort to replace 56 Hawker-Siddley 748 Avro transport aircraft, I strongly suggest you lose no more time in doing so. It's playing out as one of the most absurdly contentious, supremely ugly competitions -- and here's the thing: it hasn't even begun yet. After several stops and starts over the last two years, the latest is that the MoD has twice deferred a decision on what to do with the single bid that's landed in response to the Buy-A-Few-Make-The-Rest-In-India tender request. Now the crux, the whole point, of the Avro replacement programme is to give India's so-far hungry but ignored private industry a chance to create aerospace capacity by competing for the lucrative project. HAL therefore was deliberately kept out of the competition. The MoD and IAF felt this made sense since HAL, a single point monopoly in all things military aviation in India, has overflowing order books, limited capacity for more, and a relationship with its prime customer that can at best be described, to borrow from Facebook, as 'complicated'. HAL's extreme irritation and opposition to a tender that explicitly excludes it from the reckoning is well known. But things just went to the next level, with the company now hiring the services of prominent former staff to help lobby against the programme, and if necessary derail the course it's currently on. Journalists , including myself, received copies of an e-mail former HAL board member R. Srinivasan, who served as Managing Director of the Helicopter Complex, has written to Minister of State in the MoD Rao Inderjit Singh and Defence Secretary R.K. Mathur specifically asking, as you'll see in a moment, pretty explicitly that the programme be canned and HAL be allowed to build the planes -- pretty much because the private sector isn't up for it. Or, as the e-mail tantalisingly ends, it points to 'strategic options' available to India ahead of President Obama's upcoming visit. I'm tempted to offer my comments on every line of the stunning letter you're about to read, but I'm going to leave you to it.
Here's the e-mail in full: