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
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