Defence News: Not really a mini airforce as reported by most news agencies today but the army wants heavy duty attack helicopter squadrons it can command directly. The army wants three squadrons to be precise, of attack helicopters apart from all medium lift helicopters. Indian Airforce has opposed the proposal as they fear it may duplicate the capabilities and this would be “very expensive”. But not quite, read on…
UPA govt. earlier decided that the first of 22 Apache (already on order) would go to IAF to add to its fleet, this will replace Mi-25/35 attack helicopters facing age and obsolesce. It was also stated that future procurement would be for the army when it came to attack helicopters. This kept the army confident and hopeful that it would eventually get it’s own attack helos. Each Army squadron was proposed to field 13 machines for strike corps based out of Mathura, Ambala and Bhopal.
The army aviation corps which flies 250 Dhruv, chetak and cheetah light helicopters is quite eager to get their attack helicopters. This will give the army direct battlefield command and control of the attack air assets for ground support, anti tank, enemy facility targeting and other tactical operations requiring attack helicopters. It contends that airforce coordinated operations are sub-optimal.
Does it duplicate the attack helicopter capabilities and is it expensive?
No, it does not. Because the assets are deployed as the army wants, the airforce assets are free to engage different theaters of war, the Army can still call for support form IAF helicopters if need be. Granting some freedom to army on this enables different skill development matrix and India does not have a huge attack helicopter fleet to risk an “expensive duplication” of capabilities. We require a lot more attack helicopter squadrons but more so in light category, this will be taken care of by the LCH which can show up “very soon” as it is almost ready for induction. The world’s armies operate their own attack helicopters and this is so much better than filling a form and waiting for the airforce to show up. The army assets also enable the army to draw a tighter strategy in case of a conflict. What goes without saying is that we do need a much better Airforce-Army-Navy communication and joint command synergy.
Why hurry on Apache gunships by army?
The option clause to buy on follow up order to the 22 Apache gunships already contracted by IAF will end in September this year. After this, getting more will be a new procurement which will escalate the cost and time required. The original Apache contract was inked in 2015. Apart from the 22 Apaches to be delivered to IAF from July 2019 onwards, the contract also involves acquisition of 812 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles, 542 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire-II missiles, 245 Stinger Block I-92H missiles and 12 AN/APG-78 fire-control radars. Incidentally the IAF will feature a higher mix of longbow with regular Apache helicopters than the US forces. The longbow version has a radar dome at top and guides other helicopters into action after assessing battlefield and helping in assigning targets.
“The procurement proposal is likely to be considered by the defence acquisitions council (DAC) in its meeting to be chaired by defence minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday,” said a defence ministry source.It is yet to be seen if it will be an order of 11 Apache attack helicopters from the US as “a follow-on contract” to the earlier Rs 13,952 crore deal inked for 22 such choppers for the IAF.
After the Apaches are induced into IAF, we can hope to relieve more refurbished Mi-25/35 helicopters for Afghanistan as they are in dire need and have requested India to provide more of these machines to fight the Taliban and Pakistan army that keeps attacking their southern borders.