This was coming. In more than one way. And there’s really no other way to put it. The paperwork hasn’t gone out officially yet, but the NHIndustries NH90 is effectively out of the Indian Navy’s multirole helicopter (MRH) contest, a fight for a 16 copter deal in which it squared off against Sikorsky’s S-70B Sea Hawk. It isn’t really just about being right (I had also written of the possible effects), but about how NHIndustries’ fate was probably sealed long before the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scandal threw a cloud over all of Finmeccanica’s potential business (NHIndustries is 32% owned by AgustaWestland) in India.
In the readily hostile world of competitive defence contracting, the MRH competition has been a particularly ill-tempered one, with NHIndustries managing the irk the Indian Navy in 2012 with a salvo of letters protesting preferential treatment to Sikorsky’s product. What followed was an unusually hostile back-and-forth in which NHIndustries even managed annoy its end customer, the Indian Navy, enough to attract counter-accusations of misdemeanour. But NHIndustries had faith in process. If it was going to lose a deal, it wasn’t going to do it without a fight. Well, a fight is precisely what it was for a few months. And then the bomb dropped.
With the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scandal breaking, it became rapidly clear that Finmeccanica’s military business interests in India stood jeopardised. Between 2012-2014, the Indian Navy had held that both helicopters had met naval requirements. In August this year, the navy even indicated that both bids were to be opened for a final price battle. But that wasn’t to be. New rules specifically evolved to deal with the Finmeccanica quagmire appear to have kicked in, forcing the Indian MoD to cut NHIndustries loose and proceed with Sikorsky.
The hostility in the competition and the nature of the allegations ensured that Sikorsky’s S-70B was seen as the government’s ‘favoured choice’ (precisely NHIndustries’ protest), another juicy deal India would be throwing America’s way. That was the sense, at any rate. But then none of that matters anymore. This was coming.
Oh, and this isn’t just about 16 helicopters. The MRH is to be followed by the N-MRH competition for 123 helicopters. Config and requirements could be identical or largely the same. The Lockheed-Martin MH-60R will be looking to compete. And it shares an airframe with the S-70B. With the loud ‘Make in India’ campaign only set to get louder, the Romeo is likely to compete against Airbus Heli’s EC725 Caracal.