Scrappy Indian Navy Copter Bid Nears End

PHOTOS: NH90 ©NHIndustries / S-70B ©Savvas Garozis
The Indian Navy’s delayed 16 multirole helicopter (MRH) procurement programme is all set for the opening of commercial bids shortly. The programme has the NHIndustries NH90 squaring off against the Sikorsky S-70B Sea Hawk for a contract potentially worth $1-billion. Field evaluation trials were conducted late last year.

Indications are that the Indian government could hand this one to Sikorsky. But nothing is finished yet, and things have been far from smoothe.

As things speed towards the concluding leg of the acquisition, the Navy will be hoping it has seen the last of a controversy that still threatens to put a spanner in the works — never a far cry in Indian defence contracting. Reports began to appear in the press earlier this year about how AgustaWestland (joint venture partner in NHIndustries, and company lead in India) had written a series of letters to the MoD protesting against what it saw as a lack of fair play — in other words, preferential waivers on performance/platform parameters/configuration to Sikorsky’s bird. The reports also detailed how the Indian Navy had hit back hard, accusing NHIndustries of a variety of misdemeanours, including “twisting” and “falsifying” elements of the NSQR/RFP — something that NHIndustries denied. As a result of this back and forth, which still incidentally isn’t really over, the acquisition already has a shadow over it. Officially, the Navy has clarified that both platforms — the NH90 and Seahawk — met NSQRs (though, of course, NHI insists that the Seahawk is compliant only as a result of alleged relaxations).

The chief complaint letter was written by NHIndustries managing director Domenico Vaccari to Defence Minister A.K. Antony following field trials last year, alleging that the S-70B wouldn’t have cleared eight particular parameters if the NSQR hadn’t been glossed over preferentially. It is understood that Vaccari wrote that letter to Antony since a previous letter by AgustaWestland senior veep for international business development Giacomo Saponaro to Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma wasn’t answered.

According to the Navy, the trials were conducted “professionally, equally” and “without any concessions — certainly none that were not provided to both contenders on a mutually acceptable basis.” The Navy has not commented on specific allegations pertaining to its NSQR.Things are, therefore, delicately poised for NHIndustries. It has already managed to irritate the Navy (quite clear from how the Navy responded to the company’s letters to the MoD), though  annoyance should presumably have no bearing at this late stage of the game. There’s also deep irony to NHIndustry’s allegations that the playing field is anything but level. Just over two years ago, right before the Indian government awarded a prestigious $700-million contract for 12 VVIP transport helicopters to AgustaWestland, Sikorsky (which lost out with its S-92) wrote to the MoD asking for an explanation about certain “concessions” it believed had been granted to its competitor. It’s a replay now, only the sides are switched.

In simple words, the Indian Navy’s official line is this: The only reason a competitor would protest before a decision is that they’re sure they are going to lose or if they did not, for whatever reason, want to compete (i.e. they wanted a government-to-government deal). At this stage, nobody is in a position to judge who is ahead. Both platforms have met requirements.

On the other hand, sources suggest there are extraneous factors that could have predetermined the outcome of this particular competition already. It was only a few months ago that the Indian government informed Parliament that Italian investigations into alleged corruption at AgustaWestland had nothing to do with the Indian deal. But the issue raised enough heat and friction, and the fact that the helicopters were ordered for the country’s politicians — not the armed forces — got it even more traction. Sources say the government is unlikely to want to take any chances.

The MRH is intended to augment and then replace the Indian Navy’s fleet of Westland Seakings. The Navy is also in the process of evaluating upgrade packages for the old Seakings. The 16-chopper MRH competition is to be followed by the N-MRH (just in case nomenclature wasn’t confusing enough), a separate tender for 44 helicopters. Lockheed-Martin’s MH-60R — based on the same airframe as the S-70B — and which was ignored in the MRH, will be a contender.

28 thoughts on “Scrappy Indian Navy Copter Bid Nears End”

  1. NH90 had some problem which were reported by German,French & Australian defence. Also S70 will come with certain restrictions and minus certain key technologies.

  2. Is there no russian or french helicopter in same category?

    I remember the sanctions that were put on Seaking helipcopters at the time of Shakti tests in 1998, creating serious problems for the IN. Brits had said they are not putting any sanctions but some parts of Seakings were from US hence the sanctions.

  3. S70b is older technology cf MH-60R. NH 90 has so many delays in proction that many partner countries have reduced their purchase. For instance, Norway is waiting for them for 9 years!! Also Aystealia has grounded their NH 90 and Australian Navy opted for MH 60R recently. I think navy has screwed up in this tender by short listing two bad contenders.

  4. To Anon at 12:25PM

    You are correct..IN had this issue of suffering due to US sanctions.. post Pokhran 2 atom bomb test.

    Now IN is trying to put all it's eggs in one bucket…and if in the future tests any ICBM ..?

    US Sanctions will hurt them (or rather us Indians badly)also these helos will not have critical technologies/instruments as India has not signed 1.CISMOA 2.End User Verification Agreement 3.NPT 4.MTCR etc. agreements yet..?

    also S-70/MH-60R, all these helos are quite large compared to Seakings/Kamovs now IN has or planned Naval ALH..hence IN pilots will have quite difficulty to land them on moving ship deck (which has quite small area to land )consider what will happen in worst weather conditions.

  5. avoid made in usa product us is not trousted supplyer and india not finilized any deal just see tanker,attack heli,mrmr,light tank,javlin,smart bomb indian military military wish list long but politishion did not give any chance for curroption they want to clean there shirt military get weapons who purshes it 8-10 year ago

  6. Dear Shiv

    The second phase of NMRH is not for 44 but 75/76 helicopters..This was mentioned by Lockhed Martin CEO. It appeared in media… LM said it is going to offer S60M Romeo for which it thinks the largest tender in world for NMRH…Shiv correct me if I am wrong

  7. The 70B & 60R came from the SH-60 series of aircraft (hundreds of aircraft) and those aircraft can trace their roots back to the Blachawk since all were derived from that aircraft. So, you could say these two aircraft represent the experience Sikorsky has gained from building thousands of aircraft. The point is that both aircraft meet the Indian navy's NSQRs. To me, the big issue are all the problems the NH-90 has had and continues to have. NHI has no where's near the experience that Sikorsky has in ASW & ASuW warfare and building maritime warfare rotary wing platforms. Since the basic NH-90 aircraft (the Blackahwk equivalent) continues to have problems what do you think will happen as the NFH-90 (Seahawk equivalent) enters service? Exactly what is happening with other navies as they have taken delivery, all kinds of issues. In my opinion the NFH-90 and it's systems are not mature and it will take quite some time to get them to where that aircraft can perform at the level of an S-70B or 60R. I can tell you from personal experience the S-70B is a mature platform in terms of both the basic aircraft and the avionics and mission systems that are on that bird. Would it not serve the Indian navy best to get an Aircraft that is ready to get to work immediately?
    The S-70B & MH-60R are different, most notably with regards to the mission system. (The airframes are both made by Sikorsky). The airframes sure NOT identical with the 60R using new manufacturing techniques to machine certain airframe components. The S-70B was designed for the international market place. It was designed to be easily modified and tailored for each customer. This is due to the fact that most, if not all, international customers will want to integrate capabilities or equipment not current available on an existing configuration of that aircraft. The S-70B mission system is a Sikorsky and Rockwell Collins design that is now in its 5th generation. It is not old technology! It is, in my opinion, the best in mission systems out, there. It has been continually updated over the years to add new capabilities and address obsolescence issues. The new Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) & Weapons Management System (WMS) offer outstanding capabilities. The MK-54 torpedo (which India is getting as part of its P-8 patrol aircraft purchase) has already been integrated. For this reader, the S-70B is the clear choice. In addition, the MH-60R is not in the current tender for 16 MRH aircraft for the Indian navy. The S-70B is & should win that competition. The Indian Navy , I believe, will be happy with that choice and it would then make no sense to procure another aircraft for ithe obvious reasons (training, maintenance, logistics, etc.) The S-70B can also be configured in a utility version to offer the same capabilities as the MH-60S.
    I stand by what I have said before, for the present and immediate future, the S-70B is the best aircraft out there for the ASW and ASuW rotary wing missions and the Sikorsky mission systems integration team is the best in the business in meeting it's customer requirements.

  8. Both the S-70B and NH-90 are two of the worst choices for Indian Navy. NH-90 has a troubled development past (although most of the teething troubles are now over). S-70B is a generation older, and will place the IN chopper fleet at the mercy of whims and fancy of volatile US senate (Seaking Redux). It seems that the deal is already fixed in favour of Skrosky, same as IAF childish choice of Apache attack choppers. This will be a part of the "payment" agreed to by Manmohan Govt. for the nuke deal along with C-17, P-8 and C-130.

    A sensible choice could be naval version of Eurocopter EC 725, with sanction proof spares and familiar Turbomeca engines.

  9. I keep hearing about export issues. The S-70B is in service with 5 international navies in a variety of configurations. I seriously doubt that India will have any issues with export approval for any of the ASW or ASuW systems on that aircraft. All vendors should have already obtained export approval as part of the tender process.
    2nd tender is for 75 aircraft.

  10. the terminator

    I am no expert in either of the helicopters in the fray to secure the IN deal. Notwithstanding the above I am somewhat astonished at the claims and counter claims of both the competitors. Whether both the contenders agree with the IN or not, the MOD should only award the contract to a contender chosen by the IN solely on their requirements.

    Lately India has been purchasing billion dollars worth of American made defense products. Though I am not anti-American, I have serious doubts as to the technologies offered in these deals. Most of the planes (C-130,C-17,P8,etc.) do not come with complete technology and are very much inferior to the ones operated by the US Armed Forces, all because we refuse to be their poodles like the Pakis.

    If any of those aircraft come with inbuilt bugs which can make those aircraft as inoperable during a crisis, then we would be at the mercy of the Americans.

    Knowing very well American perfidy towards India in all their actions, especially regards their all weather friend and poodle, the Pakis, the question is why are we still looking for sanction prone American defense equipment?

    If at all we buy any of the American products with our hard earned money, it should be the best the US forces are using without any strings attached.

    If the Americans do not comply to our wishes and needs, it is imperative that we look elsewhere for similar products.

    Defense equipment should be purchased based on our Armed Forces requirements and recommendations and not at the discretion of the corrupted babooos in MOD.

    Those contenders who try to arm twist their way into defense contracts should be investigated thoroughly by the CBI and banned from future deals.

  11. Few Observations..

    1.At the first place US will never offer MH-60R (an aggressive platform along with high tech sensors fitted on the fwd nose in the MH-60R)to India.

    2.NH-90 is a maintenance proof Platform as it's airframes are made with Corrosion less CC composites (Doesn't get corroded due to impact of sea water and weather)where as SH-70 airframe is made up of conventional metal alloys.Hence a VERY VERY Important feature, IN should have put in Naval GSQR (may be taken off ..on purpose to give this order to US).

    3.NH-90 is A TRUE MULTI ROLE PLATFORM ..due to REAR RAMP which can be used to load various type of mission specific equipment and support equipment for Utility role.Sh-70 does not have this facility.

  12. In the desperation to avoid putting all its egg in one (Russian) basket, Indian military is surely putting all its egg in another (American) basket. For all their shortcomings, the Russians at least don't indulge in tech denial at crucial times. When the gloves are off, US sanction (accompanied by humiliating condescending admonitions by Hillary Clinton) will cripple a majority part of our transport and helicopter fleet.

  13. There is so much emotion and distrust in some of these posts that the facts need to be revisited.
    1. Both the 70B & NH-90 have met all the requirements from the Indian navy. So the issue of not providing the latest technology is a non issue.
    2. No vendor I have known in my 35 years as a system integrator has ever embedded "bugs" in it's products. That just sounds like paranoia.
    3. No aircraft is fully resistant to corrosion from a maritime environment. While the NFH-90 does make use of composite materials and the 70B does not, that does not mean it is is maintenance proof. The NFH-90 has only been fielded for a short time in very limited numbers so no one knows for sure what corrosion issues will surface. The 70B corrosion and maintenance practices are well understood since it has hundreds of aircraft with years of exposure to a maritime environment.
    4. India is considered both an important strategic and commercial partner for the USA and I am not aware of any sanctions in place other than for the most sensitive US technology that is not provided to anyone. The P8 buy comes the ability to launch the MK-54 torpedo, the most advanced digital torpedo in the world and the same that is in he US Navy. That torpedo is fully integrated into he S-70B. The latest radars, FLIR, ESM, navigation, weapons, & other systems are installed and available on the S-70B.
    5. Lockheed Martin is in the process of removing some of the classified systems on the 60R to create an exportable version that will compete for the next tender for 75 aircraft as a commercial offering. But these are systems not required for the MRH.
    6. The 70B is also a multi-role platform that can be configured for a variety of missions. No, it is not as big and does not have a folding ramp like the NFH-90.
    I speak from over 35 years of experience in integrating flight, mission, & weapons management systems in both fixed & rotary wing aircraft, the last 28 with Sikorsky. I would like to hear some facts from some of the folks on this blog to substantiate their concerns & claims rather than just emotion and general animosity towards the USA.

  14. The NH 90 and MH 60R were contenders for the Australian Navy's S 70B REPLACEMENT program (which the MH 60R eventually won). Makes one wonder whether NHIndustries objections of relaxations / preferential waivers to Sikorsky were really unfounded. If there have been changes / upgrades to the offered model, maybe it would have had a change in model number / Mark. I don't know. Just thinking out loud. But given the machinations in the corridors of power, you can never be sure. Just hope that the service gets the best possible tools to do its job.

  15. To Rik Lammers
    With all due respect, you seem to be a highly knowledgeable and experienced professional in the rotary wing aviation industry. But by your own admission, you are a PAID EMPLOYEE of Sikorsky. So your (shameless?) plugging for the S70B HAS to be ignored. Nothing personal. I don't know much about either platform. But that's how it is.

  16. As a concerned citizen of Bharat, I want any future PM of India to have the freedom of test new thermonuclear designs or even few old warheads in inventory to see how they are doing after being stocked for decade or two.

    This freedom gets at stake everytime we buy a military platform from US. Rik it does not need to be substantiated anymore than our past experience of Sea King Helicopters, LCA Tejas scietists dragged out of US labs and all their equipment even the ones they took from India confiscated. Leading to delay in LCA Tejas program.

    So concerns are very much based on bitter experiences just few years back.

  17. Sachin & Others,
    I am retired from Sikorsky. My "shameless plugging" is not based on any favoritism but my 35 years in designing avionics systems. You do not know me so I understand how you might think as you do. That does not change any of the data I have presented. Not familiar with the Sea King or nuclear issues but everything I have said about the 70B is true and the proposed aircraft has met the NSQRs and the configuration presented received export approval. So, no sanctions or export restrictions I am aware of. The NH-90 problems are well documented on the web. The Indian Navy evaluation team that visited Sikorsky and that I presented the weapons capability to were professional and thorough which leads me to believe they have all the data they need to make an informed and appropriate decision.

  18. Raja Raja Chola

    From open source literature available on the internet it can be said that the NH90 engine performance in tropical climates is a bit suspect. The eurocopter tigers in service with the australian army have been plagued with engine troubles ever since they were inducted. also with regards to the seahawk its a well developed and mature platform compared to the NH90. The seahawk is the right choice for the Indian Navy. as regards to possibility of us sanctions against india in the future. well thats a leap of faith the Govt of India has to take, afterall having taken the plunge by ordering Boeing P8I, C17A globemasters, and downselecting the Apache, we are well and truly tied to the USA arent we?? In anycase we need to bulk up our offensive capabilities ASAP against China and lets go with tried and trusted weapons platforms and systems. bring on the seahawks and maybe the MH60Romeos too. NH90 is good on paper but its real world performance leaves a lot to be desired.

  19. To Those…who are just doing propaganda against NH-90…
    Have a question..

    Waht these negative comments means : That all of the following WESTERN TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED countries, who has selected NH-90 for their Armed Forces/Navy like Germany, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Oman, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Portugal and Australia. ARE FOOLS !!! IS THAT SO ?

    And we Indians are smarter than these countries,that we are selecting scaled down version of MH-60R /S-70 from US is an intelligent choice ???

    Need to give a better though to digest..I feel.

    I don't hate any one..but I love my country India.

  20. Raja Raja Chola

    Mr Indian i would like to rebut your comments regarding the so called propaganda against NH90.

    The countries you have mentioned that have selected the NH90 have their own specific criteria which in their opinion was best met by the NH90. This in no ways means that they are intellectually superior to the professional choices made by the Indian Navy as to which helicopter best meets the diverse and extremely demanding operating conditions for India.
    Also the Seahawk was the model requested by the Indian Navy instead of the MH60Romeo for the current RFP of 16 choppers. The Indian Navy requirements for this RFP were in its opinion met by the NH90 and Seahawk choppers. The follow on RFP of 44 choppers is the one in which the latest version of the MH60Romeo will be invited to take part in the RFP.
    Hence the claim that Indian Navy is taking a less capable Seahawk when the more advanced MH60R is available is patently untrue.
    The Seahawk and MH60R address two specifically different requirements of the Indian Navy i.e. if these choppers are selected.

    Finally to all the doubting thomases out there the Seahawk and MH60R choppers are combat proven and their record both good and bad is there for all to see analyse criticize and praise.

    As for the apprehensions expressed by many posts on this topic regarding the risk of buying equipment from the USA considering its past record in placing arms sanctions on India post the 1998 nuclear tests, well the Government of India along with the powers that be at the three services have considered this issue and still decided to go ahead and purchase the C17Globemaster,P8I Neptune, 155M mobile howitzers, with the strong possibility of the Apache and Chinook helos also being procured from the USA.

    Hence our raving and ranting of why buy from the USA is no longer a issue since obviously the Government of India and the defence forces have factored this issue and still decided to go ahead with arms purchases from the USA.

    The NH 90 might turn out to be a good naval helicopter maybe 10 years from now and thats a big IF, in the meantime lets go with the tried and trusted Seahawk and MH60R platforms.

    The ultimate decision will be taken by the Indian Navy as to which helicopter best meets their requirments. So let us all collectively not insult the intelligence of the professional officers who work at the Indian Navy, by alluding to the fact that so called western technological advanced nations such asGermany, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Oman, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Portugal and Australia have selected the NH90. Of these countries none of their navies have deployed their NH90 in combat environments yet. The Australian Army operates the NH90 and seeing the problems encountered by them in service, the Australian Navy decided against purchasing the NH90 and went with the tried and trusted MH60Romeos for its operations. Need we say more???

  21. Indian,
    Look on the web dude! Look at all the problems the basic NH-90 has and continues to have. Australia is co-producing the NH-90 in Australia and opted for the 60R. Norway went with Blackhawks. And let's not forget the maritime version (NFH-90) is a completely different bird with an extensive mission system that has yet to be proven. Despite the so called "global economy", European countiries continue to be tremendous pressure to buy European. Unless NHI get its act together soon, they will lose more orders. If the S-70B wins India watch out for the 70B dominating international sales for rotary wing ASW & ASuW aircraft!

  22. Thank-you Raja Raja, that was well said. Lockheed Martin is developing a commercial/exportable version of the 60R that I believe will be offered in the next tender for 75 aircraft. The 70B will also be offered again as well. The thing to remember is that Lockheed has yet to deliver a 60R to the international market place and the 60R introduction to the USN fleet was anything but smooth. As you can tell I do not have a very high opinion of them as an integrator. The S-70B has been delivered internationally for over 15 years in a variety of customized oconfigurations. If the 70B wins this initial competition for 16 helos, it will be the front runner for the next tender. So I think with the NFH-90 there should be 3 viable contenders. I do not consider the Russians a viable contender for these contracts.

  23. Indian Tenders: Get detailed information on all Indian tenders at, this is best tender information provider. Access for all type of online tenders from India including government tenders, corporate tenders, public tenders.

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