The tussle over the $1 billion deal to purchase 197 light helicopters for Indian Army took a new turn with the European aviation consortium, Eurocopter, whose deal was scrapped by the government at the last minute, starting a blame game.
Short of directly blaming their main shortlisted rivals, Texas-based Textron, the makers of Bell helicopters, Eurocopter on Tuesday said: "Pressure was brought to scrap the deal," which it says it won in a fair competition by putting their flying machines through a rigorous trial in the icy heights of Siachen and the sandy terrain of the Thar.
The blame game has started after the government officially announced recently that the tenders for the acquisition had been scrapped due to Eurocopter fielding a civilian version of their helicopter for trials.
New Delhi's armaments market estimated to be around $50 billion for the next five years appears to have triggered off a turf war between new entrants -- the American multinational companies and the European consortiums.
At a news conference in New Delhi, the company stoutly refuted these charges saying that it had received no official intimation of the cancellation of the tenders.
"For us, it stands where it was," Christopher Bach, spokesman of the Paris-based consortium whose parent company -- the EADS-- also makes world's best seller Airbus passenger aircraft, said.
He said on February six this year, the company had been invited for price negotiations after the Defence Ministry informed that its helicopter had passed technical qualifications.
The company sees in the allegations in media, a move which it says appears at thwarting the initial choice made by the Ministry of Defence and the Indian army.
Bach said, "Our machines passed all trials of cold start, axle trials, weight lifts and others of highly professional standards put up by the army."
He said fielding of the civilian helicopter was in full knowledge of the Army and Defence Ministry. It had even been cleared by India top acquisition committee, the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister before the start of field trials in August 2004.
Fielding of a weaponised version of the chopper for field trials was not not listed in the RFP, Bach said as the stress was on troop and load carrying to the icy battlegrounds.
Even the weaponised version of the helicopter was demonstrated at the company's facilities in France as required by the request for proposal, he added.
The company also contested officials' claims that it had deviated from the procedures as laid down in the Defence Procurement Policy of 2006.
"We undertook trials in 2004. When the DPP of 2006 had not come in vogue," company officials said, adding the question of deviation then does not arise.
"The helicopter presented during trials is identical to the one proposed to the Indian army. Technical offers were duly evaluated by a committee comprising army and ministry of defence officials," the company said.
"All trials have been conducted with utmost transparency and professionalism," Bach said.Asked why then were the tenders cancelled, Eurocopter officials just shrugged and pointed out 'it is apparent.' They said despite the Defence Ministry's announcement, they were sure that the deal would still go through. But they did not comment whether Eurocopter would re-tender when new the request for proposals were issued.