NEW DELHI: The political slug-fest over the now-scrapped AgustaWestland helicopters deal in India has sunk a potential Indian Navy contract for WASS, another subsidiary of the Italian arms major Finmeccanica that is now renamed Leonardo.
The Manohar Parrikar-led Ministry of Defence has decided not to pursue the now-stalled negotiations with WASS, which is short for Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei, for its Black Shark heavy weight torpedoes for India’s newest conventional submarine.
Consequently, India will finally induct the first of the six French DCNS-designed Scorpene submarines, christened Kalvari and built at the Mumbai-based defence public sector Mazagon Docks Limited, later this year. But it will remain toothless till the time an alternative torpedo is chosen and contracted for.
At least two Indian government officials with direct knowledge of the decision said Parrikar has instructed the defence ministry to abandon altogether the negotiations with WASS that had stalled two years ago after the AgustaWestland deal was terminated in January 2014.
Parrikar had told the Indian Express in an interview published on May 24 that the Indian defence ministry has “refused” the WASS torpedo and that “there are other companies who can supply” torpedoes to the Indian Navy.
The Indian Navy requirement, sources said, was for 98 torpedoes and if signed, the WASS contract would have been worth at least Rs. 1,200 crore (US$180 million at current rates).
Now, Italy’s loss is Germany’s gain. The alternative that the Indian Navy could look is the SeaHake torpedo from German maker, Atlas Elektronik, an official said, but refused to be identified citing rules.
In the latter half of 2014, soon after storming to power in May, the present Narendra Modi government had finalised a policy on how it would handle Finmeccanica that is now under probe by Indian investigating agencies. That policy had provided for options to go through contracts with Finmeccanica companies that were already being executed and for keeping out the Italian major completely from future tenders.
The clarity of thought and purpose of the new Modi government had given hope to the Indian Navy to get the WASS torpedo. The hope rested on the navy’s operational requirements, the urgency attached to Kalvari’s induction, and the fact that the contract negotiations for the Black Shark torpedoes were at an advanced stage, when the AgustaWestland scam hit all possible contracts with Finmeccanica and its subsidiaries.
What triggered the latest political storm was the judgment at a Milan appeals court in Italy in April 2016 that found guilty two former officials of AgustaWestland in the kick-backs case involving the Rs. 3,727-crore (US$550 million at current rates) Indian deal inked in early 2010 for 12 AW-101 helicopters for VIP travel.