New Delhi: With IAF set to begin phasing out this year its fleet of choppers used for ferrying VVIIPs, the defence ministry is considering the option of utilizing the Mi-17V5 helicopters being procured from Russia for the task.
"We have told the Air Force to find solutions to address the issue. We are also looking at the Mi-17V5s as one of the options for ferrying VVIPs," highly placed defence ministry sources revealed.
The defence ministry had signed a contract with AgustaWestland in 2010 for procuring 12 AW-101 choppers to replace the Mi-8s but the contract was scrapped on January 1 this year after the government found that there was a breach of the pre-contract integrity pact by the Anglo-Italian firm.
India has placed orders for 139 Mi-17V5s from Russia in the last few years and a number of them have already arrived in India.
The Mi-17V5 choppers on order are meant for operational roles and none of them is in the VVIP version. They will have to be modified for being used to fly the important dignitaries including the President and the Prime Minister.The delivery of the three-engine AW-101 choppers would have been completed by the end of last year but the deal was put on hold in February last year after the arrest of the former CEOs of AgustaWestland in Italy for allegedly paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs 310 crore to Indian agents for swinging the deal in favour of the Anglo-Italian firm.
Before the cancellation of the deal by defence minister AK Antony, the IAF had put up the infrastructure and its pilots have also received training in the UK and were practising on the three choppers already delivered by the firm.
After scrapping the deal, India has encashed a guarantee of over Rs 250 crore deposited by AgustaWestland in a bank in Delhi even as it is preparing to file an appeal against an Italian court's stay on its move to encash another guarantee deposited in an Italian bank.
The Anglo-Italian firm had approached the court in Italy against the Indian action initiated soon after scrapping of the Rs 3,600-crore deal on January 1. AgustaWestland has deposited over 270 million euros (over Rs 2200 crore) as guarantees in banks in India and Italy.