Leonardo's recent delivery of an AW101 helicopter to the Indonesian air force (Indonesian acronym TNI-AU) has sparked a public controversy in that country. Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, the current TNI-AU commander, told the Indonesian news agency Antara on February 8 that he was investigating the purchase of three AW101s that was made in late 2015 by his predecessor, Marshal Agus Supriatna, who has since retired. But nine days later, Hadi told Antara that the purchase was in order.
Leonardo did not announce the sale. A spokesman for the company told AIN that there were several AW101 contracts “where the customer does not want us to perform any publicity.”
Until this acquisition, helicopters for the Indonesian armed forces had been exclusively supplied by the state-owned Indonesian Aerospace company (Indonesian acronym PTDI, previously IPTN) from its factory at Bandung. PTDI has a long-established industrial collaboration agreement with Airbus Helicopters. By the end of 2016, PTDI had delivered 34 Airbus Puma/Super Puma/Caracal helicopters to the TNI-AU that were completed at Bandung. It had similarly completed and delivered 63 Bell 412s for the Indonesian Army.
In an earlier report on the AW101 acquisition on December 3, 2015—shortly after it was agreed—Antara quoted chief cabinet secretary Pramono Agung as saying that Indonesian President Joko Widodo did not approve of the purchase. Pramono’s comment came after a meeting to discuss defense equipment in the president’s office. Pramono told Antara then, that the AW101s were intended for use as VIP transports.
The cabinet secretary added that the AW101’s “price was considered too high”, and that the helicopters in current use by the Indonesian air force for VIP transport were adequate. These are NAS-332 Super Pumas from the Bandung factory. The AW101s would be costing $55 million each, it was said.
Leonardo’s marketing pitch for the AW101 includes the claim that, as a “Head of Government and State Transport...passengers are able to walk in the spacious environment” since the AW101 has “the largest cabin in its class, 2.49 meters wide and 1.83 meters high.” The Super Puma has a smaller cabin, but officials from PTDI told AIN recently that in their opinion, the type was quite adequate for transporting VIPs and officials.
On February 17, TNI-AU commander Hadi explained to Antara that his service needed more helicopters for transport and search-and-rescue (SAR). In its strategic plan for 2015-2019, the TNI-AU had planned to purchase three AW101s for VIP transport and another six for troop transport and SAR. Although the president had rejected the use of AW101s for VIP transport, the TNI-AU had subsequently proposed to the Indonesian Ministry of Defence in July 2016, that the type nevertheless be acquired for transport and SAR.
Meanwhile, PTDI is in the process of delivering six Airbus H225M Caracal helicopters to the TNI-AU—for transport and SAR. Airbus Helicopters delivered them in an unfinished state from its Marseille factory in France to Bandung in 2014-2015. PTDI has subsequently been completing them, but did not hand over the first two to the TNI-AU until November 28 last year. When this AIN editor visited Bandung earlier this month, the remaining four were finished except for the fitting of their flotation collars, which were late being received, PTDI officials said.
In a statement issued on February 20, Leonardo said: “It is worth clarifying that the AW101 recently delivered is a military utility aircraft and was never meant to be a VVIP helicopter. The delivered AW101 has always been under the company’s ownership, control and captaincy in Yeovil, UK. It was assembled with a clean sheet configuration in mind and then configured according to the customer’s needs. Although Leonardo cannot comment on national internal processes or statements by the [Indonesian] government or by the armed forces, the company always operates in strict accordance to both confidentiality agreements with customers and to local and international laws and regulations.”
The statement continued: “As far as future prospects, this is a question for the Indonesian authorities. Leonardo, however, is confident that the AW101 is the best heavy lift helicopter on the market, whose performance and safety record has no equal.” The company told AIN that Indonesia had actually only acquired one AW101 so far.
The AW101 delivered to Indonesia last month is from the batch of 12 that was sold to the Indian air force in 2010, only to become embroiled in an acquisition scandal there. Only three of the AW101s were delivered to India: they left AgustaWestland’s (now Leonardo's) factory at Yeovil for India in December 2012. Two more have since been sold and delivered to the Nigerian air force, and one is believed to have been sold and delivered to Azerbaijan. Leonardo told AIN that one was converted into a demonstrator, leaving four that still await new customers.
Last December, the former Indian air force commander air chief marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi was arrested by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, for alleged corruption in the purchase of the twelve AW101s. During a debate in the Indian Parliament last April, defense minister Manohar Parrikar said the request for proposals for the helicopters had been altered to favor what was then the AgustaWestland company. "The technical specifications were changed - especially the altitude of the helicopters from 6,000 meters to 4,500 meters, and raising the cockpit height to 1.8 meters, that was only meant to favor the AW101," Parrikar said.
In October 2014, an Italian judge found former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi and former AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini not guilty of international corruption, but convicted the pair for the lesser crime of “false invoicing,” in relation to the Indian AW101 contract. The pair appealed, but received four-year jail sentences after prosecutors successfully argued for the reinstatement of the corruption charge. But the legal process continues, and the latest development occurred last December, when Italy’s highest court of appeal ordered a retrial.