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.

SP's LandForces - - VIEWPOINT - AIR MAR­SHAL (RETD) V.K. BHA­TIA

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.

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