Even as the US-made Chinook heavy-lift helicopters have started arriving in India, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), while pinpointing several infirmities in the procurement process, has observed that the necessary infrastructure required for operating and maintaining the machines would not be available till March 2021.

Revealing that the IAF had aligned its technical specifications to suit Chinooks and had modified its requirements five times, the CAG pointed out that the sanction for infrastructure at the designated airbase was accorded by the defence ministry in March 2018 whereas the contract for procurement of the helicopters was concluded in September 2015, thus leading to delay in the initiation of works procedure worth Rs 145.98 crore. CAG had tabled a report of capital acquisitions by the IAF in Parliament on February 13.

US Aerospace major Boeing was contracted for procurement of 15 Chinook helicopters to support combat operations of the Army by transporting troops, artillery guns and other equipment to combat locations. The first four helicopters in semi-knocked-down condition arrived by sea in Gujarat last week, where they are being re-assembled by an American team. After acceptance trials they would be based in Chandigarh.

The Chinooks would replace in the IAF the Soviet-origin Mi-26, which is the world’s heaviest helicopter. The IAF had four Mi-26 based in Chandigarh since 1986. One crashed a few years ago and of the remaining three only one is operational. Both these helicopters were evaluated by the IAF to meet its new requirements.

The airlift capability of the Mi-26 is roughly double that of the Chinook. The Mi-26 can ferry 20 tonnes of load and 82 troops as compared to Chinook’s capability of 11 tonnes and 45 troops, implying that Chinooks would require two sorties to carry the same load as that of one Mi-26.

On the other hand, the total cost of acquisition for Chinook worked out to be Rs 8,845 crore, which was about a third of Rs 28,074 for the Mi-26. Similarly, the operating cost of the Chinook, which consume lesser fuel, was Rs 1,742.97 crore as compared to Rs 3,152.29 crore for the Mi-26.

Pointing out that the air staff qualitative parameters (ASQR) were revised five times between 2006 and 2009, CAG said, “The ASQRs were being drafted in consultation with the vendors or, in other words, were being modified according to what was offered by them rather than the user need.”

During field evaluation trials it was noted that Chinook did not meet eight critical ASQR parameters while the Mi-26 did not meet five ASQR parameters. “Thus, despite these non-compliance, both MI-26 and Chinook were cleared based on the assurance of the vendor to rectify the ASQR non-compliance before delivery,” CAG remarked. Though the Army had projected the requirement for heavy-lift helicopters, Army representatives were not associated with field trials.

CAG has also questioned the defence ministry’s contention that not only Chinook has low-operating cost, its compact size also gives it an added advantage of landing in small helipads and narrow valleys, thus giving more flexibility in its operational requirement as compared to Mi-26 helicopter. “However, the IAF had been using Mi-26 helicopter since 1987 for heavy lift at high altitude in hilly regions. Second, for transporting loads to small helipads and narrow valleys there are other helicopters that include Mi-17,” the CAG observed.