1. What Was India's Requirement for VVIP Choppers?
In 1999, soon after the Kargil War ended, the Indian Air Force (IAF) realised it needed to replace its Russian Mi-8 helicopters, used as VVIP conveyance, which had proved to be unsafe. Thus, on Air Chief Marshal AY Tipnis’ watch in 2000, the IAF wrote to the Defence Ministry and proposed to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that a new fleet of modern choppers be acquired.
To this effect, a Request for Proposal (RFP) was floated in March 2002 by the Defence Ministry, to which six suppliers responded, as per a report by The Indian Express. The IAF’s requirement that the chopper should be able to fly at a height of 6,000 metres was only met by the Eurocopter EC-225.
In 2003, the Special Protection Group (SPG), upon the request of the then National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, reported that the EC-225 was unfit for VVIP conveyance, due to its low cabin height of 1.39 metres. Upon the NSA and SPG’s observations, it was decided that, for the new choppers, the flying height requirement of 6,000 metres had to be altered as only one vendor could meet it, and the cabin height had to be increased.
At the time of this recalibration, S Krishnaswamy was the IAF chief. In 2004, SP Tyagi took and authorised the new specifications for the choppers, as per a report by The Indian Express. In 2006, the Defence Ministry floated a new RFP with the 2003 specifications to six suppliers. Three companies responded, including defence major Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland, with its AWA101 chopper.
By 2007, only two companies – Sikorsky (which made the S-92 helicopters) and AgustaWestland were left in the fray, this time under the tenure of new Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major.