Not To Be?
More than physical ownership, what really matters is for the two services to be able to fight a war-winning joint air-land battle. The time may be ripe to stop the in-house fighting and prepare ourselves to carry it to the enemy, when required.
FROM VARIOUS REPORTS EMANATING from the Indian media, it appears that the Army has once again launched an aggressive campaign amongst the top echelons of the government, demanding that the Army be allowed to have its own full-fledged air wing which includes the attack helicopters. Citing examples of some major armies in the world including the US, China and Pakistan, which have their own air wings, the proponents of this argument lament as to why the Indian Army is being denied the rightful ownership of attack helicopters (AH) despite the fact that this ‘flying machine and weapon platform’ is acquired only for supporting ground forces on the battlefield.
The naivety of this argument is immediately manifest from the following facts: first, the Indian Army air wing was established way back in 1986 in the form of Army Aviation Corps (AAC) with clearcut mandates; second, the AAC is already acquiring the combat/attack helicopter platforms with the acquisition of ‘Rudra’, the weaponised version of the advanced light helicopter ( ALH) Dhruv and the ‘under development’ light combat helicopter (LCH) of which the Army has placed an order for 114 machines; third, the notion that the AH is meant only for supporting the ground forces on the battlefield. Most flying machines have many-faceted roles and the attack helicopters are no exception. For example, these helicopters have been gainfully used for destruction of enemy air defence systems in the forward areas, close interdiction, combat search and rescue, counter-insurgency, even for communication and logistics duties, in the absence of committed helicopters for such roles.
It is clear from the above that the IAF’s attack helicopters fleet is not only to provide close support to the Army in the tactical battle area (TBA) but also to cater for other missions that are entrusted to the IAF. Little wonder the IAF is proactively seeking to augment its attack/combat helicopter capability by acquiring state-of-the-art Boeing Apache Longbow AH-64D attack helicopters, 22 of which have been ordered. These will supplement and eventually replace the existing but ageing Mi-25/Mi-35 helicopters. In addition, the IAF has also placed an order for 65 light combat helicopters being developed indigenously by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
Interestingly, even the Wikipedia on LCH spells out its intended roles as, “air defence against slow moving aerial targets (e.g. aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)), counter-surface force operation (CSFO) destruction of enemy air defence operations, escort to special heli-borne operations (SHBO), counter-insurgency operations (COIN), offensive employment in urban warfare, support of combat search and rescue (SAR) operations, anti-tank role and scout duties.” How many of these are confined to the TBA? Perhaps, the land bat-
The IAF’s attack helicopters fleet is not only to provide close support to the Army in the tactical battle area but also to cater for other missions that are entrusted to the IAF
tle pundits would like to answer.
Under the joint Army-Air Instruction of 1986 when the Army Aviation Corps was created, the Army was given the mandate of operating light helicopters up to five-tonne class. This distinction was done as the Army sought these helicopters to fight the closein encounter land battle. That situation has not changed with the Army’s acquisition of advanced light helicopter weapon systems integrated (ALH-WSI) in its ‘Rudra’ avatar nor will it change with it’s to be acquired LCH, as both these belong to the five-tonne class. It must be remembered that by exceeding the max take-off weight by a few hundred kgs over the five-tonne limit, does not put the helicopter in an altogether different (heavy) category. The AAC’s cry for owning the heavier attack helicopters has about the same merit as the Infantry formations’ desire within the Army to have their own ‘Topkhanas’. Even the Army would admit the good reasons as to why these formations were restricted to having their mortar elements while the ‘big guns’ were kept within the ambit of artillery.
The supporters of the so-called Army’s case for owning all attack helicopters have even come up with an idea, bordering on the infantile, suggesting, “The Air Force needs to focus more on its strategic role and leave the TBA for the Army to handle…” If some quarters in the Army actually think that the Army can fight and win the ground battle merely by owning the attack helicopters, they couldn’t be further removed from the ‘ground reality’. Fortunately, the Air Force understands the juvenility of this offtrack notion and continues to train for all its roles including the ones related to the TBA.
If the recent disclosures by the outgoing Army Chief are any indicators, the service will do well to put its own house in order by filling up the serious deficiencies being faced by its combat arms rather than indulging in unnecessary and costly turf wars. In the final analysis, more than physical ownership, what really matters is for the two services to be able to fight a war-winning joint air-land battle. It is believed the Indian defence planners have been hard at work, hammering out doctrines for fighting exactly such a battle. The time may be ripe to stop the in-house fighting and prepare ourselves to carry it to the enemy, when required.