Investigation follows allegations of undue interference in modelling of contender proposals

The Australian defence inspector general has launched an investigation into the tender evaluation process for the Australian Defence Force's Project Air 9000 helicopter rationalisation project.

The move follows allegations from within the Australian Department of Defence that undue interference occurred in modelling of contender proposals by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

DSTO is alleged to have been repeatedly directed by the Australian Army to change the parameters of modelling of the AgustaWestland EH101 helicopter to diminish its competitiveness against rival bids by Sikorsky Australia and Eurocopter Pacific. AgustaWestland officials in Canberra refuse to comment.

The Air 9000 project was expected to go before the National Security Committee (NSC) of the Australian Cabinet on 26 November, but this did not occur. Flight International understands that the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation, which is heading the bid evaluation process, is still to provide a formal recommendation to Australian defence minister Robert Hill, this being a prerequisite to NSC evaluation.

Senior level Australian defence acquisition committees approved the setting aside of the AgustaWestland bid from the tender evaluation process in October this year.

Air 9000 is potentially worth A$5 billion ($3.6 billion) over 30 years. The current tender process is based on the identification of a long-term strategic partner to manage and rationalise the ADF helicopter fleet, and supply up to 12 additional troop lift helicopters for the Australian Army.

In November, Eurocopter naval applications marketing manager Herve Brunet publicly claimed his firm had been preselected for the Air 9000 requirement and expected to sign initial contracts soon.

An announcement on the tender evaluation process is unlikely until early 2004.

Source: Flight International