Several top Indian companies including TATA, Mahindra and Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group are vying for the nearly USD 1.5 billion Naval Utility Helicopters Programme under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Defence sources said more than eight domestic firms have responded to the ‘Request for Information (RFI)’ issued by the government in October last year and the Defence Ministry is currently studying them.
The last date for reply to the RFI for over 100 helicopters was February 28, the sources said, adding Indian companies have tied up with foreign firms for the deal which was initially supposed to have gone to international players.
The Modi government had in August last year scrapped the tender and put the acquisition under the ‘Buy and Make Indian’ category, allowing the Indian industry to make the helicopters under a joint venture with a foreign manufacturer.
RFI responders included Punj Llyod, Bharat Forge, Mahindra Aerospace, Reliance Defence and Aerospace, Tata Advanced Systems and the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the sources said.
European major Airbus is in talks with several Indian firms including TATA, Mahindra and Reliance. The sources maintained that it was yet to firm up a partnership and that talks were on. Besides Airbus, interested foreign players include Agusta Westland, Bell Helicopters and Sikorsky.
State-run HAL could tie up with the Russians for Kamov 226 helicopters. This helicopter was offered by the Russians during its President Vladamir Putin’s visit late last year.
The Naval headquarters has invited the interested Indian companies, along with representatives from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), for presentations starting March 16.
Industry sources said the “main challenge” is to ensure that OEMs have clearly defined partnerships with the Indian companies so that the programme execution meets the DPP (Defence Procurement Procedure) guidelines.
“With some of the OEMs still working with multiple Indian partners, there seems to be an urgent requirement for focused approach,” an official with a private firm said.