Tech bids for first big Make-in-India project opened

The government’s first big ‘Make in India’ project for the defence sector took off on Monday with the opening of technical bids for the Rs 21,000 crore (210 billion) plan to manufacture naval utility helicopters in partnership with a foreign vendor.

Three foreign manufacturers have submitted bids for the programme, which involves setting up of a manufacturing line with an Indian partner for the Navy’s requirement of 111 helicopters that will operate from its frontline warships, said people privy to the details.

European manufacturer Airbus seems to be at an advantage with two platforms – the H 145M and the Panther AS565 – on offer for manufacturing in partnership with Mahindra Defence. The American side has offered the Sikorsky S 76D while Russia has offered the Kamov Ka 226T for the mega project.

Officials told ET that US helicopter manufacturer Bell did not submit a bid and Korean aviation company KAI also did not respond, although both the companies had shown interest earlier. It is learnt that while the Bell chopper was a civilian variant that required extensive modifications, the KAI option has not matured as of now.

State-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is separately pushing for the naval version of its Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) for the contract.

The technical bids will now be vetted by the navy to see if they are compliant with its requirements. This process is expected to take two months, following which the choppers will go through exhaustive field trials to evaluate their performance.

As a parallel process, the navy is also vetting the credentials of eight Indian manufacturers who have responded to an Expression of Interest to be the local partners for the programme. Visits to facilities of these domestic players – Tata Aerospace and Defence, Mahindra Defence, Reliance Defence, Adani Defence, HAL, Bharat ForgeNSE -0.32 % and Lakshmi Machine Works – are expected to begin by the end of this month.

Officials said they hoped that by the last quarter of 2019, the navy will have a shortlist of both foreign and local vendors ready to take the selection process to the next step. “The final step will be a formal request for proposal where the shortlisted Indian companies will make a commercial offer in partnership with the shortlisted foreign vendor,” said an official.

The defence ministry has several financial and technical parameters to shortlist Indian companies that will be considered for the bidding process, including criteria of a net worth of at least Rs 800 crore (8 billion) , a revenue of Rs 1,800 crore (18 billion) and a proven capability of delivering mega projects in the past.