India's Ministry of Defence (MoD) has asked the federal government to fast-track the purchase of helicopters for VIP transport duties. The request follows its 1 January termination of the contract for 12 AgustaWestland AW101s that were intended for the role.
In a late January letter to Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, the MoD stressed the urgency of the acquisition.
It stated that the five Russian Mi-8 helicopters, which are currently being used to fulfill the VIP transport role by the Indian Air Force's (IAF's) Communication Squadron, were fast nearing retirement and were having their operational life extended every six months.
The MoD asked Seth to urge all those involved in VIP transportation to kick-start the helicopter acquisition process by consulting with the IAF to determine their qualitative requirements (QRs).
This includes the Prime Minister's Office, the Home Ministry and the Special Protection Group, which provides security to VIPs such as the president, vice-president and prime minister.
Other than an operational ceiling of 4,500 to 6,000 ft, the VIP helicopters are required to possess all-weather and night-flying capability, advanced navigational aids, self-protection anti-missile suites, data links and medical evacuation systems.
Official sources said the MoD, which faces a funds shortage, is even considering modifying the IAF's twin-engine, Russian Mi-17V-5 helicopters for VIP transport as they fulfil the majority of the QRs. The IAF has placed orders for 139 weaponised Mi-17V-5s and began receiving them in late 2011.
However, the final decision on whether to modify the Mi-17V-5s or buy other helicopters is likely to be taken by the new government that will assume office in late May following a general election.