Bell Helicopter and Boeing have pulled out of India's $500 million attack helicopter competition, but some industry sources believe that New Delhi could modify some of the tender's terms to get both US manufacturers on board again.

India's defence ministry issued a request for proposals for 22 helicopters last May, and had hoped to evaluate the AgustaWestland AW129, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Bell AH-1Z SuperCobra, Eurocopter Tiger, Kamov Ka-50 and Mil Mi-28.

The companies were originally given 90 days to respond, but Boeing asked for an eight-week extension to prepare a fully compliant proposal. The ministry offered only an additional month, prompting Boeing to withdraw.

"The company studied the government's request seriously and thoroughly, and Boeing executives participated in a pre-bidder's conference in New Delhi," says Boeing.

"However, following this review of the Indian air force's attack helicopter programme RFP, Boeing regretfully concluded that it will not be able to prepare in the time allotted a fully compliant proposal that addresses India's unique requirements. This was a difficult but necessary decision," it adds.

Bell chose not to participate as India insisted on a direct purchase from the manufacturers, with its AH-1Z only available via the US government's Foreign Military Sales mechanism.

"The [Indian] government was insisting on dealing directly with the company on this, but it was not possible in this instance and Bell chose to withdraw," says a source close to the company.

Boeing believes that the Apache will remain a strong contender should there be a change of mind in New Delhi. "If future acquisition solicitation circumstances should change, Boeing respectfully requests that the numerous advantages offered by the AH-64D Apache be considered. Boeing remains committed to supporting India's long-term defence needs," says the company.

India's Hindustan Aeronautics hopes to propose its planned Light Combat Helicopter design for the tender, but the type may not be ready in time. Industry sources say that the remaining contenders submitted their proposals before the 30 September deadline, but that New Delhi is keen to have as wide a range of helicopters to choose from as possible.

"The [defence] ministry could do something to get both companies back in the fray. Ultimately, the ministry wants to have the best machines for its services and it would not be possible to make a proper decision when the Apache and Cobra are both not in the competition," says a New Delhi-based source.

The air force hopes to sign a contract within two years and complete deliveries within a further three-year period. The tender is to replace the service's ageing Mil Mi-35 fleets. Its requirements include a twin-engined design capable of operating in all weather and terrain and of deploying turret-housed guns, rockets, and air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.

EADS and India's Defence Avionics Research Establishment will pursue a requirement for an electronic warfare self-protection suite, having jointly developed and tested a new missile warning system based on the European company's AAR-69 MILDS system.

Source: Flight International