Hidden in the details of the government's Wednesday big-bang 'Make in India' push in the defence production was the fine print about the Russian deal, by nomination not tender, to manufacture 200 Kamov Ka 226 light helicopters, so desperately needed to replace the ageing Cheetah fleet which services one of the world's highest military deployments on the Siachen glacier. Work on this had begun right after Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit in December.
Assurances were exchanged then at the highest levels to look into this project. What's interesting is that Goa might just be the place where the facility may come up given that a feasibility study has been conducted to set up a chopper line there soon after Manohar Parrikar, former Goa CM, took over as defence minister.
Incidentally, if this works out, this would be the second major defence project for the state. The minister has already announced that the Goa Shipyard has been nominated to construct 12 minesweepers for the Indian Navy in a contract that is expected to cost over $1 billion. While Russian Helicopters (RH) is in talks with a handful of possible Indian partners, the lead contender happens to be the Gurgaon-based Sun Group.
The deal, insiders said, may see the group cornering a significant share of the pie, which could cross $700 million. RH is likely to produce at least 200 choppers in India.
However, the company is also looking at involving Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), though partnerships with other private firms are not ruled out.The Sun Group, whose vice-chairman and founder Shiv Vikram Khemka has been a non-executive director on the board of RH since 2011, has already set up a helicopter division and is likely to be involved in the Make in India project.
While Sun did not respond to a detailed questionnaire sent by ET, company officials said things were at a preliminary stage and it was too early to comment.
Sources say the Sun Group was also an offset partner for RH in a previous competition to supply light choppers to the army. That process was, however, cancelled by the government last year.
Defence ministry officials, who did not wish to be quoted, told ET that the RH deal has effectively killed any other light helicopter project for the armed forces, including a process that was initiated earlier this year for an Indian-led JV to manufacture a new range of choppers.
Several companies, including Tata, L&T and Reliance Infra has responded to a request for information.