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AERO INDIA: India may relaunch attack helicopter contest

India's $500 million attack helicopter competition is hanging in the balance, with the country considering whether it should issue a fresh request for proposals that would allow US companies to enter the contest.

New Delhi had issued an RFP in May 2008 and hoped to evaluate the AgustaWestland AW129, Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, Bell AH-1Z SuperCobra, Eurocopter Tiger, Kamov Ka-50 and Mil Mi-28 for the 22-aircraft requirement.

Bell and Boeing, however, pulled out late last year over India's insistence that it purchase the helicopters directly from the manufacturers. Both the Apache and Cobra are available only through the US government's Foreign Military Sales mechanism. In addition, Boeing felt that it was not given adequate time to respond to the RFP.

Industry sources say that technical evaluations were scheduled to begin in early 2009 and flight trials were to have taken place over the summer, but none of the remaining manufacturers have heard from the Indian government.

"There are worries that the Indian government may decide to go for a new RFP that allows the American companies to take part. If it does, that is very unfair to the other companies that submitted their bids on time and had no issues with the original RFP. They might as well simply issue a new RFP to the Americans if they are so eager to accommodate Washington," says an official from one of the manufacturers.

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.

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