Eurocopter will provide the AS550 C3 Fennec military helicopter for the trials in India's light utility helicopter competition, instead of the AS350 civilian helicopter that was tested in an earlier tender that was later cancelled.
The company has an AS550 with its weapons on display at Paris (below) and Norbert Ducrot, Eurocopter's senior vice-president for sales and customer relations in Asia Pacific, says that the flight tests for India's LUH competition could be begin shortly.
"This time, we have a military version of the Fennec that is ready to go on trial in India. We are waiting for the instructions and we expect the process to begin shortly. We do not know when a contract will be awarded but we are sure that we have the best product for India," he adds.
Industry sources say that the company is favoured to get the contract, given that Bell chose not to offer its 407 this time. Eurocopter was close to winning an earlier LUH tender, but New Delhi cancelled it in December 2007 after Bell and several other companies complained that the EADS subsidiary was unfairly favoured in the selection process. Some also said that Eurocopter did not follow the rules by using the AS350 instead of a military version of the aircraft during the first trials.
Eurocopter, however, always denied any charges of wrong-doing. It added that the AS550 was "exactly the same" as the AS350 "in terms of airframe, systems, main gear box, rotor head, blades, engine and performances". India's former defence minister subsequently exonerated the company of any wrong-doing.
India requires 197 military light utility helicopters, of which 133 are for its army and 64 for its air force. It hopes that deliveries will begin by the end of 2010 after a year-long evaluation, although this is expected to slip. The contract could be worth up to $750 million, and the companies must reinvest 30% in India under the country's offsets policy.
State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics has been asked to develop and manufacture another 187 light utility helicopters, and the company could either do this on its own or with the help of a foreign partner.
The move comes as New Delhi aims to completely revamp its military helicopter fleets by 2020. The AgustaWestland A129, Bell AH-1Z Cobra, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Eurocopter Tiger, Kamov Ka-52 and Mil Mi-28 are in the contest for a 22-unit attack helicopter requirement, and anti-submarine warfare and naval reconnaissance helicopters are also sought. India has also ordered 80 Mil Mi-17-V5 transport helicopters, and continues to induct the HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter.