span class=”BTX” A month after scrapping a 600-million-dollar deal to buy nearly 200 helicopters, India is now seeking bidders for an even bigger contract worth almost one billion dollars, officials said on Tuesday.p New Delhi earlier this month contacted four aviation firms in France, Italy, Russia and the United States, asking about their ability to supply 312 helicopters for the armed forces on an “urgent” basis, defence officials said./pp “Letters of interest have been sent to Kamov (Russia), Bell (US), Augusta Westland (Italy) and Eurocopter (France) expressing our urgent requirements,” a senior defence ministry official said, asking not to be named./pp State-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), meanwhile, joined the race, stating that as India’s largest aircraft manufacturer, it had the capacity to build light observation helicopters for the army and the air force./pp India last month scrapped a 600-million-dollar deal for 197 helicopters with Eurocopter, the helicopter unit of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), after accusing it of “deviating” from the contract./pp Eurocopter, the global leader in sales of civil and military helicopters, has denied any wrongdoing and has rejected allegations it used middlemen to clinch the now-dead deal./pp India banned the use of middlemen in military contracts following allegations of bribery in a multi-billion-dollar artillery deal in the 1980s with Swedish firm Bofors. That scandal led to the downfall of the government of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1989./pp Earlier this month, the Indian air force added its requirement of 115 helicopters to the 197 units the army wanted, pushing the value of the deal to almost one billion dollars and the number of aircraft to 312./pp “A combined global tender will be issued in a few months’ time after we receive a response from the four companies,” the ministry official said./pp The new helicopters would replace the vintage fleet of French- and Russian-built light helicopters bought in the 1960s for the million-plus army and the air force./pp The December 6 cancellation of the Eurocopter deal caused dismay in India’s military establishment, as the services need modern helicopters for high-altitude missions in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir./pp Indian officials said the defence ministry stressed the need for speedy deliveries in a recent meeting with representatives of the four aviation firms./pp “The sudden death of the Eurocopter contract was a jolt to our planned six-year procurement plans and now we want to make up for lost time,” the military official told AFP./pp India had selected the Eurocopter 350B3 reconnaissance model over Bell’s LongRanger after an intensive testing period. /pp India, which also invited tenders last year for 126 fighter jets worth 10 billion dollars, has emerged as one of the biggest buyers of military equipment among developing countries./pp Since 1999, India’s military purchases have been worth a massive 25 billion dollars. It is likely to spend another 30 billion dollars by 2012, according to defence experts./ppSource: //p/span

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