In­dian Army’s Mini Air Force

Mini Air Force, or the Army Avi­a­tion Corps, is the arm of the fu­ture and will play a de­ci­sive role in any fu­ture con­flict. It is a le­git­i­mate re­quire­ment of all pro­fes­sional armies the world over and the In­dian Army is no ex­cep­tion.

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral (Retd) B.S. Pawar

Mini Air Force, or the Army Avi­a­tion Corps, is the arm of the fu­ture and will play a de­ci­sive role in any fu­ture con­flict.

EVER SINCE THE DE­CI­SION of the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) to hand over at­tack he­li­copters to the Army, there have been a spate of ar­ti­cles in the me­dia fo­cus­ing on their mis­placed per­cep­tion of the Army get­ting its own “Mini Air Force”. The re­cent de­ci­sion of the Army on the cre­ation of a per­ma­nent cadre for the Army Avi­a­tion Corps seems to have fur­ther fu­elled this per­cep­tion. The lat­est ar­ti­cle on this sub­ject ap­peared in a lead­ing daily on De­cem­ber 3, 2012, with a sen­sa­tional ti­tle, “Now Army to Get Own Mini Air Force”. The pro­tag­o­nists of th­ese views ob­vi­ously do not un­der­stand the con­no­ta­tion of the term Mini Air Force or they would not use it in the con­text of ac­tions be­ing taken by the Army/ MoD to­wards the planned mod­erni­sa­tion and trans­for­ma­tion of the Army Avi­a­tion Corps. They fail to un­der­stand that the world over army avi­a­tion has a sep­a­rate phi­los­o­phy/ con­cept of em­ploy­ment and roles/tasks visà-vis the air forces. This fact has been am­ply demon­strated by the em­ploy­ment of such forces in the two Iraq wars and their present em­ploy­ment in Afghanistan.

The In­dian Army to­day has the largest num­ber of he­li­copters in its in­ven­tory (270 to be pre­cise) con­sist­ing mainly of the light ob­ser­va­tion (Chee­tah and Chetak) and light util­ity (ALH/Dhruv). Th­ese as­sets are nowhere near what had been en­vis­aged in 1963 by the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen­eral J.N. Chaud­huri, to have a full-fledged air arm of the Army which would in­clude all classes of he­li­copters in­clud­ing at­tack and light fixed-wing air­craft of the Dornier class. It is worth not­ing that it took nearly 23 years for the Army to fi­nally break away from the Air Force and form its own avi­a­tion corps in 1986. It has taken an­other 27 years for the Government to take the de­ci­sion on the is­sue of the own­er­ship of at­tack he­li­copters in favour of the Army. How­ever, the De­fence Min­istry has failed to re­solve the is­sue in its en­tirety as the medium- and heavy-lift he­li­copters have been kept out of the government de­cree and con­tinue to be held with the Air Force, whereas the is­sue of fixed-wing air­craft for the Army is not even on the MoD radar.

Fu­ture con­flicts are likely to be short, swift and in­tense, where time and speed of op­er­a­tions will be of prime essence, and in our con­text th­ese are most likely to oc­cur in the moun­tains in re­spect of both the east­ern and north­ern bor­ders. In the above sce­nario, the Army Avi­a­tion as­sets will play a piv­otal role right from the word go and will con­sti­tute the key el­e­ment of the com­man­der’s plans. The Army Avi­a­tion due to its in­her­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics is a game changer and a force mul­ti­plier that can tilt the bal­ance in any con­flict. It would be per­ti­nent to men­tion here that both our ad­ver­saries, China and Pak­istan, have full-fledged Army Avi­a­tion Corps hav­ing all class of he­li­copters in­clud­ing at­tack he­li­copters and fixed-wing air­craft as part of their in­ven­tory and they do not in any way qual­ify as a mini Air Force of their coun­try. Hence, in the present state, the In­dian Army Avi­a­tion corps is nowhere near be­ing a Mini Air Force as is be­ing pro­jected in the print me­dia. In fact with­out cru­cial as­sets like medium- and heavy-lift he­li­copters, its full po­ten­tial can­not be ex­ploited in the tac­ti­cal bat­tle­field and this re­mains a ma­jor draw­back in its op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity es­pe­cially in the moun­tains. The Army in its long-term plans is look­ing at an at­tack/armed heli­copter unit, a re­con­nais­sance and ob­ser­va­tion heli­copter unit and a light/tac­ti­cal bat­tle sup­port heli­copter unit with each Corps. This gives a very ef­fec­tive op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity in terms of fire­power and mo­bil­ity to the field force com­man­der to fight his bat­tle with­out hav­ing to look over his shoul­ders, es­pe­cially in the ini­tial phase of the bat­tle where time and speed is cru­cial. The heavy-lift he­li­copters and light fixed­wing air­craft would be com­mand as­sets, for en­hanc­ing the lo­gis­tics and lift ca­pa­bil­ity as well as their util­i­sa­tion for com­mand and con­trol pur­poses. In the ab­sence of ad­e­quate and suit­able in­fra­struc­ture on our east­ern bor­ders this could be a very crit­i­cal re­source. Suit­able or­gan­i­sa­tions are re­quired for com­mand and con­trol and co­or­di­na­tion of such re­sources, and hence the con­cept of Corps Avi­a­tion Brigades, the first one be­ing al­ready ef­fec­tive in 14 Corps with three heli­copter units un­der its com­mand.

With re­gard to a per­ma­nent cadre for Army Avi­a­tion Corps, there are three dis­tinct cat­e­gories in its cadre—the avi­a­tors (pi­lots), tech­ni­cians (EME per­son­nel) and the sup­port staff. The avi­a­tors are of­fi­cers se­lected from all arms and cur­rently have strength of ap­prox­i­mately 280 of­fi­cers. In this num­ber, al­most 30 per cent are al­ready per­ma­nently sec­onded to the avi­a­tion corps and form part of the per­ma­nent cadre. The first batch of of­fi­cers was in­ducted into the per­ma­nent cadre in 1999 and there­after a con­tin­u­ous process of in­duc­tion of a cer­tain num­ber of of­fi­cers based on a se­lec­tion sys­tem takes place ev­ery year. Re­cently, the di­rect in­duc­tion of of­fi­cers into Army Avi­a­tion Corps has also com­menced both from the In­dian Mil­i­tary Academy, Dehradun, and Of­fi­cers Train­ing Academy, Chen­nai. It is ul­ti­mately planned to have a per­ma­nent to sup­port cadre ra­tio of 40:60 with re­gards to the avi­a­tors, keep­ing in mind the or­gan­i­sa­tional

The Army Avi­a­tion due to its in­her­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics is a game changer and a force mul­ti­plier that can tilt the bal­ance in any con­flict

and car­rier pro­gres­sion as­pects. The tech­ni­cians are al­ready per­ma­nently af­fil­i­ated to the Army Avi­a­tion Corps. Their in­duc­tion is done di­rectly into Army Avi­a­tion through the corps of EME with sep­a­rate ca­reer and pro­mo­tional prospects and they re­tire on their su­per­an­nu­a­tion from the corps it­self. The sup­port cadre on the other hand con­sists mostly of per­son­nel re­quired for ad­min­is­tra­tion, lo­gis­tics, se­cu­rity and fly­ing op­er­a­tions. Th­ese in­volve trades like clerks, drivers, ra­dio op­er­a­tors, air traf­fic con­trollers, me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal staff, fire-fight­ing per­son­nel, etc. They are cur­rently drawn from all arms/ser­vices of the Army and are posted to avi­a­tion units on ex­tra-reg­i­men­tal em­ploy­ment (ERE) for lim­ited tenures, a sys­tem which ad­versely im­pacts the smooth func­tion­ing of th­ese units. In fact the de­ci­sion to make this cadre per­ma­nent had been hang­ing fire for quite some time, due to the com­plex­i­ties in­volved in the trans­fer of th­ese per­son­nel from dif­fer­ent arms/units. How­ever, the de­ci­sion has fi­nally been taken to per­ma­nently ab­sorb th­ese per­son­nel into the Army Avi­a­tion Corps and to set up a sep­a­rate records of­fice to man­age the ad­min­is­tra­tive re­quire­ments of th­ese per­son­nel. This in­deed is a wel­come step and will help in fur­ther stream­lin­ing the func­tion­ing and op­er­a­tional ef­fec­tive­ness of the Army Avi­a­tion Corps and is a far cry from the imag­i­na­tion of some, who con­sider this move by the Army as a step to­wards form­ing a mini Air Force.

De­spite all the bot­tle­necks and im­ped­i­ments, the Army Avi­a­tion Corps is con­tin­u­ing to grow, al­beit slowly. A sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment is the in­duc­tion of the Ru­dra (armed ALH) into the corps by March this year. The re­place­ment of the ex­ist­ing vin­tage fleet of Chee­tah/Chetak he­li­copters is now im­per­a­tive, for any slip­page on this ac­count will have dis­as­trous se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions, as the main­te­nance of this fleet it­self is be­com­ing a tech­ni­cian’s night­mare. Mini Air Force, or the Army Avi­a­tion Corps is the arm of the fu­ture and will play a de­ci­sive role in any fu­ture con­flict. It is a le­git­i­mate re­quire­ment of all pro­fes­sional armies the world over and the In­dian Army is no ex­cep­tion.

Ru­dra armed ad­vanced light heli­copter (ALH)

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