THE NETHERLANDS Government has delayed its choice of a battlefield helicopter until the middle of this month in order to "clarify" the offset deals offered by McDonnell Douglas (MDC) for its AH-64 Apache, and Eurocopter for the Tiger.

At stake is an order for 32 helicopters worth up to NGL1.5 billion ($875 million) for the Netherlands army.

The official reason for the delay is "...the absence of sufficient information on the contents of the financial compensations proposed by the two manufacturers". Eurocopter has proposed a 100% offset package spread around 80 Dutch companies, while MDC has reportedly offered to place up to NGL100 million-worth of business with Fokker.

The latter stands to gain either way, since its majority owner, Deutsche Aerospace, has a 30% stake in Eurocopter.

The Netherlands Prime Minister, Wim Kok, insisted after the announcement of the delay that the competition was "still totally open". His defence minister, Joris Voorhoeve, however, has repeated his ministry's preference for the Apache, and not only because the helicopter "...satisfies all of our operational requirements".

He adds that the Tiger is not available until 1999, while the Apache is already in service, and would not, therefore, expose the Netherlands to the risk of introducing a brand-new machine. "We want a contract without risk," he says.

The Government wants clarification on three points: how the offers compare in terms of short- and long-term benefits, qualitatively and quantitively; how they translate in terms of employment benefits; and what the offers mean for Dutch industry in the international context.

The Agusta A.129 Mangusta, Atlas Aviation Rooivalk and the Bell AH-1W have also been offered for the contract.

Source: Flight International