Re­quire­ments of In­dian Army Avi­a­tion Corps

The Army Avi­a­tion needs to play a vastly en­hanced role in land op­er­a­tions in the coming years. This is only pos­si­ble if the arm grows both quan­ti­ta­tively and qual­i­ta­tively. The gap be­tween de­sire and re­al­ity is cur­rently not very large and is likely to na

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

The Army Avi­a­tion needs to play a vastly en­hanced role in land op­er­a­tions in the coming years.

THE OP­ER­A­TIONAL DI­VER­SI­TIES OF the In­dian Army have to be viewed with the va­ri­ety of ter­rain ex­ist­ing on our bor­ders and our ex­ten­sive de­ploy­ment in moun­tains/high-al­ti­tude ar­eas. This re­quires as­sets that are ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing across this en­vi­ron­men­tal spec­trum. The present force struc­ture of Army Avi­a­tion Corps (AAC) in­hibits it from be­ing able to per­form the roles en­vis­aged. The arm has been un­able to grow to its nat­u­ral size due to numer­ous evo­lu­tion­ary fac­tors, the con­stant op­po­si­tion of the In­dian Air Force (IAF) be­ing one of the ma­jor rea­sons. The growth plan for­mu­lated for 2027 also does not fully ad­dress the re­quire­ments of an op­er­a­tional AAC, which would be ca­pa­ble of fight­ing and sup­port­ing the Army in fu­ture con­flicts.

To make the Army Avi­a­tion a po­tent force it must have a mix of both he­li­copters and fixed-wing air­craft with the he­li­copters be­ing avail­able in larger num­bers. The heli­copter fleet should con­sist of at­tack and armed he­li­copters, heavy-, medi­u­mand light-util­ity (lift) he­li­copters and lighto­b­ser­va­tion he­li­copters. There also would be a need for spe­cialised he­li­copters suit­ably mod­i­fied for spe­cial op­er­a­tions. The aim is to make the force a ca­pa­bil­ity-based or­gan­i­sa­tion rather than an equip­ment and in­ven­tory-based struc­ture, im­ply­ing com­men­su­rate in­duc­tion of man, ma­chine, with the or­gan­i­sa­tional and in­fras­truc­tural re­quire­ments. New di­men­sions in tac­ti­cal op­er­a­tions at night as a di­rect re­sult of sen­sor and avion­ics ca­pa­bil­i­ties, with the abil­ity to op­er­ate at low lev­els at night will yield great div­i­dends. The broad re­quire­ments of the Army Avi­a­tion and what it should pos­sess to make it a po­tent arm are as fol­lows:

Re­con­nais­sance and Ob­ser­va­tion

There is a re­quire­ment for a ded­i­cated Re­con­nais­sance and Ob­ser­va­tion unit for ev­ery di­vi­sion to cater for re­con­nais­sance of com­man­ders, di­rec­tion of ar­tillery fire and ca­su­alty evac­u­a­tion from in­ac­ces­si­ble ar­eas. The present Chee­tah/Chetak fleet is vin­tage and needs im­me­di­ate re­place­ment. The tri­als for their re­place­ment have been com­pleted with the French Euro­copter (Fen­nec) and Rus­sian Kamov (Ka-226) in fray. Both he­li­copters be­ing eval­u­ated are night-ca­pa­ble and mod­i­fied for fit­ment of sen­sors for trans­mit­ting real-time in­for­ma­tion to ground sta­tions dur­ing re­con­nais­sance mis­sions.

Util­ity/ Lift He­li­copters

The Army needs to de­velop ca­pa­bil­i­ties for lift­ing up to a com­pany at the Corps level, a bat­tal­ion at the Com­mand level and a bri­gade at Army level. Light, medium and heavy he­li­copters as well as some light fixed-wing air­craft are re­quired for th­ese tasks. In the light-util­ity cat­e­gory, four units of ad­vanced light heli­copter (ALH) have al­ready been raised and are op­er­a­tional in­clud­ing one in high al­ti­tude, while the fifth is cur­rently un­der rais­ing. A to­tal of eight such units are planned for in­duc­tion, each hav­ing 10 he­li­copters. This gives the ca­pa­bil­ity to a field force com­man­der to move within the TBA up to a com­pany level force at the crit­i­cal junc­ture of the bat­tle with­out hav­ing to look over his shoul­ders. The ALH is an all-weather, night-ca­pa­ble, twin-en­gine ma­chine with state-of-the-art avion­ics. The avail­abil­ity of this re­source will give ad­di­tional tac­ti­cal ca­pa­bil­ity to the com­man­ders in plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion of their op­er­a­tions. The ALH has also been test eval­u­ated for high-al­ti­tude op­er­a­tions with a more pow­er­ful en­gine ‘Shakti’, be­ing pro­duced by the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited (HAL) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with French Tur­bomeca. This will give a ma­jor boost to en­hanc­ing the load car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity while op­er­at­ing in high-al­ti­tude ar­eas, es­pe­cially the Si­achen Glacier. In the medium-lift cat­e­gory, the Air Force con­tin­ues to stonewall all at­tempts of the Army to ac­quire a suit­able heli­copter in the 10 to 12-tonne class. This ca­pa­bil­ity is ba­si­cally re­quired for in­tra-the­atre move of re­serves and equip­ment in­clud­ing am­mu­ni­tion and

The Army needs to de­velop ca­pa­bil­i­ties for lift­ing up to a com­pany at the Corps level, a bat­tal­ion at the Com­mand level and a bri­gade at Army level

for spe­cial op­er­a­tions. HAL is look­ing at the fea­si­bil­ity of a joint ven­ture with a for­eign ven­dor for a 10 to 12-tonne class mul­ti­plepur­pose util­ity heli­copter, but very lit­tle progress has been made in this re­gard so far. The Army needs to pur­sue this ap­proach more vig­or­ously to ac­quire this class of he­li­copters, which when suit­ably mod­i­fied, will be the Army’s main­stay for spe­cial op­er­a­tions.

In the heavy-lift class, the re­sources are al­most non-ex­is­tent with only one unit of Rus­sian Mi-26 he­li­copters cur­rently held with the Air Force. The in­duc­tion of the ul­tra­light how­itzer into the Army (tri­als com­pleted—in­duc­tion likely soon), for de­ploy­ment in the moun­tains has trig­gered the re­quire­ment for suit­able heavy-lift ca­pa­bil­ity, with he­li­copters ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing th­ese how­itzers un­der slung in the moun­tains. The process for ac­qui­si­tion of this class of he­li­copters has al­ready com­menced un­der the aegis of the Air Force. In fray are the Amer­i­can Chi­nook CH-47 and the Rus­sian Mi-26. The re­quire­ment is to have four to five such units with 10 he­li­copters each at com­mand level to give the ca­pa­bil­ity to the The­atre Com­man­der to move up to a bat­tal­ion, as well as for trans­port­ing/lift­ing heavy equip­ment/light guns, in­clud­ing lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port. The op­er­a­tional tasks and roles of this class of he­li­copters leave no doubt with re­gards to their own­er­ship. Here we also need to look at the con­cept of the tilt-ro­tor tech­nol­ogy wherein the air­craft can op­er­ate both as a fixed-wing and a heli­copter. Boe­ing’s V-22 Osprey is a tilt-ro­tor which is al­ready op­er­at­ing in Afghanistan in sup­port of the US marines. This type of air­craft is ide­ally suited for the moun­tains where in­fra­struc­ture in terms of land­ing grounds/ air­fields is al­most non-ex­is­tent—ide­ally suited for our east­ern bor­ders.

Boe­ing AH-64 Apache at­tack heli­copter

Boe­ing CH-47 Chi­nook heli­copter

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