Indian Air Force

IAF Renews Hunt For VVIP Helicopters A Decade After AugustaWestland Fiasco

Story Highlights
  • The IAF has used the medium-lift Mi-17 V-5 on a number of fronts, including transporting VVIPs and helping troops in forward locations and doing relief and rescue tasks.
  • The good news is that at the same time, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is making a medium-lift chopper that can meet the needs of the IAF's VVIP fleet.

The planned deal to buy AugustaWestland helicopters got stuck and was canceled almost ten years ago. Since then, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has started looking again for the best helicopter to fly the president, vice president, and prime minister of the country.

The Congress-led UPA government canceled the Rs 3,700 crore deal to buy 12 helicopters from AugustaWestland in January 2014, just before the Lok Sabha elections. This was because of allegations that the Anglo-Italian company had paid large bribes to Indian officials, including a former IAF chief, to get the deal done.

After taking office, Narendra Modi’s government put AgustaWestland on a “blacklist.” India used bank promises to get back a lot of the money that had been paid for the 12 helicopters. Three AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters that arrived in India in 2012 as the first of their planned deliveries are still parked at the IAF’s Palam airbase in Delhi.

Since the deal fell through, the IAF has been using Russian-made Mi-17 V-5 helicopters to move VVIPs around. But because of the war between Russia and Ukraine, this fleet has had trouble with service and upkeep. The Mi-17 helicopter was made in Russia, but several important parts, including the engine, are made in Ukraine.

India and Russia’s Rosoboronexport made a deal in 2008 for 80 Mi-17 V-5 types. By 2028, the IAF wants to start getting rid of these helicopters. So, the IAF offices in New Delhi has started working on getting new helicopters for its fleet of VVIP helicopters.

The IAF command is finishing up the Air Staff Quality Requirements (ASQR) for the needed helicopter before sending them to the ministry of defense. ASQR is the first and most important step in buying air assets because it decides things like quality, technical specs, price, and competition.

But the Special Protection Group (SPG), the special force in charge of the Indian prime minister’s safety, will have a big say in which VVIP helicopter is chosen. The SPG will check to see if the picked helicopter has enough room for safety gear. Back in 2004, the SPG was a big part of making the technical requirements for buying helicopters, which made it possible for AugustaWestland’s AW101 to be in the running.

The good news is that at the same time, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is making a medium-lift chopper that can meet the needs of the IAF’s VVIP fleet. But it’s not likely that the idea will become real in the next 5–7 years.

The IAF has used the medium-lift Mi-17 V-5 on a number of fronts, including transporting VVIPs and helping troops in forward locations and doing relief and rescue tasks. It has worked in many different kinds of terrain, like the Siachen Glacier, and has shown its worth in UN tasks. The Mi-17 V-5 can carry more than five tons of weight, which is about 24 people. But it is also known as the helicopter that crashed near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, in December 2021, killing India’s first Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and several IAF members.

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