At­tack Heli­copters for In­dian Army...

The need is for ded­i­cated air crew not only pro­fi­cient in fly­ing but also as­so­ci­ated full time with Army ma­noeu­vres, op­er­a­tional think­ing and ground tac­tics, as well as time spent in the field. The present struc­ture is not suited for the short, swift and


ALL MA­JOR ARMIES OF the world, in­clud­ing those of our ad­ver­saries China and Pak­istan have fullfledged air wings of their own with all types of heli­copters, in­clud­ing at­tack heli­copters and fixed wing air­craft in their in­ven­tory. The Gov­ern­ment in USA and UK had to in­ter­vene to fa­cil­i­tate the for­ma­tion of a sep­a­rate Army Avi­a­tion Corps, de­spite strong ob­jec­tions by their re­spec­tive air forces. Dur­ing the Viet­nam War (1959-75), the US Army had more heli­copters than all of the branches com­bined (Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard). How­ever, the In­dian Army con­tin­ues to be de­nied the right­ful own­er­ship of at­tack heli­copters, de­spite the fact that this fly­ing ma­chine and weapon plat­form is ac­quired only for sup­port­ing ground forces in the bat­tle­field. Stale ar­gu­ments are put for­ward again and again to jus­tify the un­jus­ti­fi­able.


The pri­mary mis­sion of Army Avi­a­tion is to fight the land bat­tle and sup­port ground oper­a­tions. It op­er­ates in the tac­ti­cal bat­tle area (TBA) as a com­bined arms team ex­pand­ing the ground com­man­der’s bat­tle­field in space and time. Its bat­tle­field lever­age is achieved through a com­bi­na­tion of mo­bil­ity and fire­power, that is un­prece­dented in land war­fare and hence it is the cen­tre­piece of land force oper­a­tions. Its great­est con­tri­bu­tion to bat­tle­field suc­cess is the fact that it gives the com­man­der the abil­ity to ap­ply de­ci­sive com­bat power at crit­i­cal times vir­tu­ally any­where in the bat­tle­field. This may be in the form of di­rect fire from avi­a­tion ma­noeu­vre units (at­tack/armed heli­copters) or in­ser­tion of ground forces at the point of de­ci­sion. This ver­sa­til­ity is the essence of Army Avi­a­tion due to which it can be ef­fec­tively em­ployed right from com­mence­ment of of­fen­sive till con­flict ter­mi­na­tion. The as­sets re­quired for the above ma­noeu­vre, the at­tack and as­sault heli­copters, must be at the beck and call of a field force com­man­der and also pi­loted by men in olive green who fully un­der­stand the ground sit­u­a­tion, are from the same back­ground and speak the same lan­guage. This will en­sure the op­ti­mum util­i­sa­tion of the bat­tle win­ning re­source.

Oft Re­peated Ar­gu­ments

In a re­cent ar­ti­cle in The Times of In­dia, Pune edi­tion ti­tled “The War Within: Army vs IAF in New Turf Bat­tle”, the author has dwelt on the old and te­dious ar­gu­ments of the Air Force as to why Army should not have at­tack heli­copters? Per­haps the author is not aware of the fact that this is­sue was first raised by the Army in 1963 and the so-called turf war un­for­tu­nately con­tin­ues to rage till date. I would like to high­light two is­sues raised in the ar­ti­cle, pur­port­edly the views of the Air Force. Firstly, the re­mark that Army does not have an avi­a­tion cul­ture and there­fore is not ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing and main­tain­ing at­tack/heavy heli­copters is not only shock­ing and con­demnable but needs to be treated with ut­ter dis­dain. The se­cond is­sue per­tains to the ref­er­ence to the Joint Army-Air In­struc­tion of 1986, which sup­pos­edly per­mits the Army to only op­er­ate heli­copters of less than five-tonne weight. In the light of the above, there is a need to high­light a few facts to de­mys­tify the de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to cre­ate a haze.

Army Avi­a­tion Corps’ (AAC) Per­spec­tive Plans

The AAC is a thor­oughly pro­fes­sional force and has an avi­a­tion cul­ture as good as or even bet­ter than the Air Force. It op­er­ates the largest fleet of heli­copters in In­dia (Chee­tah, Chetak and ad­vanced light he­li­copter—ALH) to the ex­treme lim­its of man, ma­chine and ter­rain. It is the life­line of troops de­ployed in Si­achen. The AAC al­ready has in its in­ven­tory the lancer gun­ship (armed Chee­tah) com­plete with a sight­ing sys­tem, gun and rock­ets and has been blood­ied in oper­a­tions in coun­terin­sur­gency en­vi­ron­ment. The armed ver­sion of the ALH (Ru­dra) is purely an Army project and is be­ing in­ducted into the AAC by the end of this year. In ad­di­tion to the gun and rock­ets, the Ru­dra has air-to-air and air-to-ground mis­siles, akin to any state-of-the-art at­tack he­li­copter in ser­vice to­day. In fact, the light com­bat he­li­copter (LCH) be­ing de­vel­oped by the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited will have the same weapon com­ple­ment as the Ru­dra. As per the AAC Per­spec­tive Plans (fu­ture plans), the Ru­dra units will form part of the Pivot/ Hold­ing Corps and will play a cru­cial role in any fu­ture con­flict. It would be per­ti­nent to men­tion here that the Army Avi­a­tion test pilots and flight test engi­neers were to­tally in­volved in the se­lec­tion and in­te­gra­tion process of all the weapon sys­tems in the Ru­dra project. This should put aside any fears/ap­pre­hen­sions re­gard­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Army to op­er­ate and main­tain armed/at­tack heli­copters that my col­leagues in IAF may have.

With re­gard to the se­cond is­sue, both the ALH and Ru­dra are above the five-tonne cat­e­gory. Hence the re­peated ref­er­ence to this is­sue de­fies logic. Se­condly, to­day the en­tire threat per­cep­tion and se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment has un­der­gone a dras­tic change since 1986. In­dian Army faces a two-front threat and an­tic­i­pates hy­brid na­ture of oper­a­tions in the fu­ture and has em­barked on the road to mod­erni­sa­tion and trans­for­ma­tion to keep pace with the emerg­ing threats and chal­lenges. The other two ser­vices are also a part of this process and their ac­qui­si­tion plans speak for them­selves. The Air Force needs to fo­cus more on its strate­gic role and leave the TBA for the Army to han­dle, keep­ing in mind the na­ture of fu­ture con­flicts. There is a tacit need for the Air Force to have a relook at the 1986 doc­u­ment and move away from a rigid mind­set.

Con­trol and own­er­ship of at­tack heli­copters and medium-/heavy-lift heli­copters by the Army is an op­er­a­tional im­per­a­tive

En­hance the Over­all Goal and Ca­pa­bil­ity of the Land Forces

The role that Army Avi­a­tion needs to per­form in sup­port of land bat­tle re­quires equip­ment, per­son­nel, air crew and or­gan­i­sa­tions en­hanc­ing the over­all goal and ca­pa­bil­ity of the land forces com­man­der. The need is for ded­i­cated air crew who are not only pro­fi­cient in fly­ing but are as­so­ci­ated full time with army ma­noeu­vres, op­er­a­tional think­ing and ground tac­tics, as well as spend time in the field. The present struc­ture is not suited for the short, swift and lim­ited wars en­vis­aged in the fu­ture.

Turf bat­tles are part of ev­ery na­tion’s de­fence forces, but the ex­pe­ri­ence of other na­tions clearly il­lus­trate that each ser­vice needs a vi­able in­te­gral avi­a­tion com­po­nent for it to re­tain the ca­pac­ity to meet fu­ture chal­lenges on the ground by us­ing aerial ma­noeu­vre and at­tack as part of its re­sponse to the dy­nam­ics of an ever chang­ing bat­tle­field. The con­trol and own­er­ship of at­tack heli­copters and medium-/heavy-lift heli­copters by the Army is an op­er­a­tional im­per­a­tive due to the need for in­te­gra­tion of all el­e­ments of Army Avi­a­tion (com­bat and com­bat sup­port) into a co­he­sive com­bat or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The time for de­ci­sion is now.

Boe­ing AH-64D Apache Long­bow At­tack Heli­copters can aug­ment IAF’s at­tack ca­pa­bil­ity

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