Editor’s Comments - Army Aviation Asset
IWAS SURPRISED AND AMUSED at the recent media reports which indicated that the Army Chief General Bikram Singh has asked the government to allow the Army to have its own attack helicopters and that this move has once again given rise to a fresh round of turf war between the Army and the Indian Air Force.
At the beginning of the second decade of 21st century, the Indian armed forces are still stuck in the quagmire of unresolved command and control problems of an aerial weapon platform, which is designed for manoeuvre and attack against ground targets. The attack helicopter is an essential component of the land battle, a norm followed by every country in the world.
It is common knowledge and an accepted principle that each service must possess and indeed command all elements which are required to conduct their respective battles, efficiently and effectively. The ground battle invariably requires some essential elements which include infantry, armour and artillery, including air defence artillery, engineers, army aviation and the logistic services.
The basic tactics employed by ground forces comprise “fire and manoeuvre” and therefore all elements that are required to undertake these missions on the battlefield should logically be a part of the ground force. The so-called “attack helicopter” is nothing but an extension of the ground manoeuvre arm, except that it manoeuvres through the medium of air and provides intimate fire support to the ground manoeuvre elements. This does not mean that an Army can fight future battles without the Air Force. In fact air power will predominate in the theatre of operations in future wars and counter-air operations; and battlefield air interdiction and close air support are inseparable parts of a campaign. Having said that, it does not mean that everything that flies in the air should be with the Air Force. In all armies of the world, including our neighbours, Pakistan and China, the attack helicopters are the Army’s asset, owned and operated by the Army.
The light combat helicopter and the ALH (WSI) being inducted in the Army are also equipped with various types of weapons and missiles for battlefield support. These helicopters are lighter than the AH 64 D Apache, which carries a far bigger arsenal of weaponry. So it seems that the only bone of contention that remains today is that the heavier helicopters will currently be with the Air Force and the lighter ones with the Army. This artificial barrier will also disappear with time. The writing on the wall is very clear. Attack helicopter is an essential component of a combat grouping, primarily meant for supporting and augmenting the ground forces, i.e. the Army.
It can be said that ultimately it is the mutual acceptance that matters more than the arguments put forward. If we have to fight together as a joint force our hearts and minds have to honourably accept each other’s requirements and view points and proceed ahead with joint training, joint planning and joint execution of war and not get stuck in invidious arguments and distinctions which only help to provide the media with material to exploit the differences between the services.