Air­borne Op­er­a­tions

The Para Train­ing School (PTS), run by the In­dian Air Force at Agra, con­ducts the parachut­ing and com­bat mil­i­tary free-fall train­ing of the Army, the Pres­i­dent’s Body Guards, cadets from the In­dian Mil­i­tary Academy and NCC, and to some ex­tent the Navy

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

AIR­BORNE OP­ER­A­TIONS IN THE In­dian Army es­sen­tially in­volve both the Army and the Air Force al­beit us­ing fixed-wing air­craft and medium-lift he­li­copters both held by the Air Force. How­ever, Army is un­der­tak­ing he­li­copter op­er­a­tions at small scale us­ing its own in­te­gral he­li­copters. Army also un­der­takes some train­ing jointly with the Navy. One of the ma­jor ad­verse fall­outs of not having a Chief of De­fence Staff (CDS) is the ab­sence of joint­ness and syn­ergy within the mil­i­tary, which in turn af­fects all joint op­er­a­tions in­clud­ing air­borne op­er­a­tions. Re­sis­tance to change and per­ceived threats to in­di­vid­ual turfs pre­cludes vi­tal re­forms required to en­hance op­er­a­tional ef­fi­ciency. Other than Bri­tain, In­dia is per­haps the only coun­try in the world where air­borne train­ing for the Army is han­dled by the Air Force but in case of the UK, the Bri­tish Army has in­te­gral fixed-wing air­crafts which is not the case in In­dia. In an in­for­mal dis­cus­sion in the mid-1980s Air Force ap­peared amenable to han­dover the Para Train­ing School (PTS) at Agra to the Army in ex­change for two of the many Ter­ri­to­rial Army (TA) bat­tal­ions tasked with ground de­fence of air­fields to the Air Force. How­ever, this was not ac­cept­able to the Army and the mat­ter has re­mained in limbo.

Train­ing for Air­borne Op­er­a­tions

The Para Train­ing School (PTS), run by the In­dian Air Force at Agra, con­ducts the parachut­ing and com­bat mil­i­tary free-fall train­ing of the Army, the Pres­i­dent’s Body Guards, cadets from the In­dian Mil­i­tary Academy and NCC, and to some ex­tent the Navy. How­ever, the Navy is gear­ing up to or­gan­ise their own para­troop­ing and com­bat mil­i­tary free-fall train­ing with in­te­gral fixed-wing and he­li­copter as­sets of Naval Avi­a­tion. As for com­bat mil­i­tary free-fall train­ing, Army’s Spe­cial Forces bat­tal­ions are also un­der­tak­ing such train­ing in situ by them­selves us­ing Army Avi­a­tion he­li­copters, in­clud­ing the Ad­vanced Light He­li­copters (ALH). PTS, AF, Agra is con­sid­ered the sec­ond best av­enue in the Air Force both fi­nan­cially and pro­fes­sion­ally af­ter the fly­ing stream. Hence, the Air Force fiercely re­sists any in­tru­sion in their exclusive turf of air­borne train­ing. This is de­spite more than ad­e­quate ex­per­tise in the Army to jointly man this or­ga­ni­za­tion. There is also con­sid­er­able scope to prune down the man­power of PTS, AF, Agra but the Air Force is not in­clined to do so. For ex­am­ple, world over para­troop­ers pack their own para­chutes but the Air Force does not per­mit the In­dian Army to do so and in­stead main­tain their own para­chute pack­ers. Nu­mer­ous Army of­fi­cers, JCOs and NCOs have the qual­i­fi­ca­tion to be posted as in­struc­tors at PTS, AF, Agra but their post­ing as in­struc­tors is re­sisted by the Air Force de­spite de­ci­sions taken to this ef­fect af­ter deliberate dis­cus­sions at the Joint Op­er­a­tions Com­mit­tee (JOCOM) of the three Ser­vices more than a decade back. Sim­i­larly, nu­mer­ous Army per­son­nel are trained in Air Dis­patch and DZ Safety. How­ever, their em­ploy­ment even dur­ing ex­er­cises with troops is re­sisted by the Air Force.

Other than Bri­tain, In­dia is per­haps the only coun­try in the world where air­borne train­ing for the Army is han­dled by the Air Force but in case of the UK, the Bri­tish Army has in­te­gral fixed-wing air­crafts which is not the case in In­dia.

In ad­di­tion to PTS, AF, Agra also houses the Army Air­borne Train­ing School; an in­sti­tu­tion to­tally manned by Army per­son­nel. This in­sti­tu­tion trains all ranks of the Army in cour­ses like Heavy Drop and Air Porta­bil­ity. There is lit­tle in­ter­ac­tion between PTS, AF, Agra and Army’s Air­borne Train­ing School. In 2002, on be­hest of the Army, JOCOM or­dered a joint study for merger of th­ese two in­sti­tu­tions, both lo­cated at Agra. Though the study strongly rec­om­mended merger of th­ese two train­ing in­sti­tu­tions, the rec­om­men­da­tions could not be im­ple­mented be­cause of sus­tained ob­jec­tions by the Air Force.

Air Ef­fort and Equip­ment

Para train­ing is done from fixed wing air­craft are the An-32, IL-76 air­crafts and the C-130s. The re­cently ac­quired C-17 Globe­mas­ter air­craft are for strate­gic air­lift and not for paradrop­ping in the Tac­ti­cal Bat­tle Area (TBA). The An-32 air­craft is used for para­troop­ing only in In­dia, not even in Rus­sia. Their ac­qui­si­tion from erst­while USSR was more un­der po­lit­i­cal com­pul­sions than op­er­a­tional vi­a­bil­ity. Iron­i­cally, post field tri­als in In­dia, the then Com­man­der of 50 (I) Para­chute Brigade had not rec­om­mended the An-32 air­craft for pro­cure­ment since 42 para­troop­ers from a sin­gle air­craft get dis­persed over 1.2 kilo­me­tres with at­ten­dant prob­lems of get­ting the force to­gether by night im­me­di­ately af­ter the drop. In­ci­den­tally, a bat­tal­ion group paradrop re­quires 32 x An-32 and 7 x IL-76 air­craft on full scale (never ex­er­cised to date) and 24 x An-32 and 5 x IL-76 air­craft on hard scale. Need­less to men­tion that en­tire Air Force ef­forts will be required to mount such an op­er­a­tion, but this is fea­si­ble when na­tional se­cu­rity so de­mands.

Air­borne op­er­a­tions are con­ducted in ac­cor­dance a joint stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure un­der which all ranks while in the air are un­der com­mand the Air Force (pilot of con­cerned air­craft), re­vert­ing to Army con­trol once troops touch ground. A lop­sided ar­range­ment has been con­tin­u­ing where the Army is re­spon­si­ble for procur­ing air­borne equip­ment but the Air Force pro­cures the heavy drop equip­ment, lat­ter for drop­ping tanks, BMPs, ar­tillery guns, ve­hi­cles etc. Lack of co­or­di­na­tion in­vari­ably leads to short­ages, which in turn af­fects train­ing and op­er­a­tions. Be­fore the IPKF went into Sri Lanka, se­vere de­fi­cien­cies of para­chutes for the troops were made up through emer­gent im­ports of para­chutes from coun­tries like Repub­lic of Korea but nei­ther the De­fence Re­search and Devel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) nor the Air Force had any in­fra­struc­ture to test th­ese para­chutes. When the An-32 and IL-76 air­craft were pro­cured, the Air Force went ahead and pro­cured Heavy Drop Plat­forms (HDP) and Heavy Drop Equip­ment (HDE) along with th­ese air­craft from the Sovi­ets with­out ref­er­ence to the Army. The re­sult was that though HDP and HDE for low level drops were avail­able, which re­duces vul­ner­a­bil­ity in the air, th­ese were not pro­cured. There have also been pe­ri­ods of se­vere short­ages of com­bat mil­i­tary free-fall equip­ment for sus­tained pe­ri­ods in­clud­ing of oxy­gen equip­ment. Short­ages have also been ac­cru­ing be­cause of ad hoc de­mands sans holis­tic ap­praisal. Devel­op­ment of para­chutes, com­bat mil­i­tary free-fall para­chutes, HDP and HDE by the DRDO has con­tin­ued at snail’s pace. The in­dige­nous com­bat mil­i­tary free-fall equip­ment still has im­ported oxy­gen equip­ment de­spite years having gone by.

When the An-32 and IL-76 were be­ing pro­cured, which in­ci­den­tally were funded by the Army, the plan was to have the ca­pa­bil­ity to lift the Para­chute Brigade in about two lifts. How­ever, fac­tors like ser­vice­abil­ity, wastages and paucity of fly­ing hours on ac­count of di­ver­sion of fixed-wing ef­fort on non-mil­i­tary tasks has brought us to a stage where not one sin­gle bat­tal­ion group ex­er­cise even on hard scale has been con­ducted over the last two decades plus, leave aside ad­e­quate train­ing in heavy drop of equip­ment. In the US, the com­bat mil­i­tary freefall team, which is 135 strong, un­der­takes 10 com­bat jumps ev­ery month by night with full equip­ment in­clud­ing twin ruck­sacks. In In­dia, a 10 jump re­fresher course on an av­er­age is held once in two years. While, the Air Force is in-charge of com­bat mil­i­tary free-fall train­ing, their em­pha­sis is more on sport free-fall – show jump­ing.

Para train­ing is done from fixed-wing air­craft are the An-32, IL-76 air­crafts and the C-130s. The re­cently ac­quired C-17 Globe­mas­ter air­craft are for strate­gic air­lift and not for paradrop­ping in the Tac­ti­cal Bat­tle Area (TBA).

La­cu­nae

Pilot train­ing of the Air Force for para­troop­ing is se­verely lack­ing, as is ev­i­dent from demon­strated ca­pa­bil­i­ties dur­ing ma­jor ex­er­cises. The first ever ex­er­cise to cap­ture an airstrip on an is­land was con­ducted in 2001. Though the Army wanted to ex­er­cise a bat­tal­ion group drop by night, the Air Force could drop only 60 all ranks by day tak­ing 40 min­utes for the drop with two An-32s mak­ing eight cir­cuits each. This is just one ex­am­ple of the pit­falls of the Army not be­ing re­spon­si­ble for its own para­troop­ing train­ing, which is the norm

abroad. While trun­cated bat­tal­ion level drops are be­ing prac­tised in Corps level ex­er­cises in re­cent years, the Air Force pi­lots are ob­served un­der­tak­ing re­con­nais­sance on days pre­ced­ing the drop over the in­tended drop zone in ex­er­cise en­emy area in broad day­light – a luxury that will not be avail­able in ac­tual op­er­a­tions. More sig­nif­i­cantly, the Air Force de­ploys a heavy ve­hi­cle with crew for DZ safety sur­rep­ti­tiously in the ex­er­cise en­emy area wherein the same task to guide the drop can be eas­ily done by own Spe­cial Forces in the area or by an Army DZ Safety of­fi­cer dropped or in­fil­trated, as fea­si­ble, for the pur­pose. Though op­er­a­tionally im­prac­ti­cal, Air Force con­tin­ues with such prac­tice to re­tain its exclusive turf.

Then is the ques­tion of Air Dis­patch. The An-32 is de­signed to carry 42 para­troop­ers. If the dis­patch­ers are from the Air Force, it im­plies wastage of air ca­pac­ity as two dis­patch­ers of Air Force go back with the air­craft, drop­ping only 40 para­troop­ers. This de­spite ad­e­quate Army per­son­nel are trained in Air Dis­patch who can dis­patch the para­troops from the air­craft and be the last to them­selves jump out. In case of the IL-76, which has a four door exit, car­riage ca­pac­ity of four army para­troop­ers is wasted be­cause Air Force is us­ing four Air Force per­son­nel for air dis­patch du­ties. The cu­mu­la­tive wastage of air­lift ca­pac­ity amounts to 92 army para­troops in case of a bat­tal­ion group drop on full scale and 68 army para­troops in case of a hard scale drop of a bat­tal­ion group. The Air Force also rules out paradrops in moun­tains by night and there ap­pears to be aver­sion to blind drops by night even in plains.

The Air Force de­ploys a heavy ve­hi­cle with crew for DZ safety sur­rep­ti­tiously in the ex­er­cise en­emy area wherein the same task to guide the drop can be eas­ily done by own Spe­cial Forces in the area or by an Army DZ Safety of­fi­cer dropped or in­fil­trated, as fea­si­ble, for the pur­pose.

Re­quire­ment

The re­quire­ment for the In­dian mil­i­tary is to re­view air­borne op­er­a­tion holis­ti­cally and work to­wards joint­ness in re­fin­ing op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ca­pac­ity build­ing rather con­sol­i­dat­ing sin­gle ser­vice turfs. The Army’s Air­borne Train­ing School and PTS, AF, Agra should be merged into a sin­gle Mil­i­tary Air­borne Train­ing School di­rectly un­der Head­quar­ters In­te­grated De­fence Staff (IDS) that would meet the air­borne train­ing, com­bat mil­i­tary free-fall train­ing, heavy drop train­ing and even air­borne sports re­quire­ments of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The Para­chute Brigade is the prime Rapid Re­ac­tion Force of the Army and the coun­try, whose em­ploy­ment must be op­ti­mised. The US in­va­sion of Afghanistan was spear­headed by troops from US 82 and 101 Air­borne Di­vi­sion pre­ceded on ground by Spe­cial Forces. A future war with China and or Pak­istan may re­quire sim­i­lar ac­tions; es­tab­lish­ment of air head(s), ver­ti­cal en­vel­op­ment to seize ter­ri­tory and to out­ma­noeu­vre and out­flank en­emy lo­ca­tions. This needs stream­lin­ing ex­ist­ing pro­ce­dures, re­or­gan­i­sa­tion, train­ing and joint ser­vices pro­ce­dures. Stream­lin­ing of stan­dard op­er­a­tion pro­ce­dures must also look into re­duc­ing at­tri­tion through mea­sures like for­ma­tion fly­ing, re­duc­ing length of the airstream and low level drops. Likely drop zones for op­er­a­tions need to be iden­ti­fied, sim­u­lated and pe­ri­odic ex­er­cises held to hone our ca­pa­bil­i­ties. In all this, the Para- chute Brigade must also train for such tasks in con­junc­tion the Spe­cial Fron­tier Force. There is no rea­son why we can­not un­der­take air­borne drops by night in moun­tains where plateaus are avail­able. As part of force pro­jec­tion, we must build ca­pa­bil­ity for cap­tur­ing an airstrip on an is­land by night through air­borne as­sault. It is not with­out rea­son that the Chi­nese PLA is un­der­tak­ing high al­ti­tude air­borne ex­er­cises in Ti­bet in­clud­ing cap­ture of moun­tain passes. Since 2010, PLA has been re­hears­ing cap­ture of moun­tain passes at heights be­yond 5,000 me­tres through ar­moured ve­hi­cles and air­borne troops. A Chi­nese Min­istry of De­fense re­port claimed the ex­er­cises have been con­ducted at an el­e­va­tion of more than 4,500 me­tres us­ing air and ground troops on high al­ti­tude plateaus. We must ready our­selves for con­flict with China since pos­tur­ing of the PLA in our bor­der re­gions is in line with China’s shift­ing strat­egy from con­ti­nen­tal to pe­riph­eral de­fence in sync with Chi­nese mil­i­tary doc­tri­nal in­tent of re­solv­ing to fight and win lo­cal wars on its bor­ders. In this con­text, the PLA is en­gaged in ca­pac­ity build­ing for faster de­ploy­ment in high al­ti­tudes of the Ti­betan plateau. There is no rea­son why we can­not do sim­i­larly. Sig­nif­i­cantly, China main­tains an Air­borne Corps al­beit pri­mar­ily to en­sure in­tegrity of the coun­try and re­lies heav­ily on air landed op­er­a­tions post cap­ture of an air head, even us­ing civil com­mer­cial air­craft. We can take a cue from this since a mis­match ex­ists between our para­troop­ing trained ca­pa­bil­ity and our air­lift ca­pa­bil­ity in back­ground of op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments and an en­larg­ing China-Pak­istan col­lu­sive threat. Much work needs to be done in this re­gard. HQ IDS and Army Train­ing Com­mand (ARTRAC) need to se­ri­ously ex­am­ine above is­sues.

Para­troop­ers prac­tis­ing

at Agra Air­port

IAF’s C-130J dur­ing the Ex­er­cise Iron Fist 2013

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