Uttarakhand flood operations put spotlight on heavy-lift chopper requirement
The Indian Air Force (IAF) currently has 45 aircraft, both helicopter and fixedwing, committed to flood relief operations in monsoon-ravaged Uttarakhand. While its fleet has acquitted itself remarkably well so far, there are pressures that the IAF cannot ignore. While the force has over 20 workhorse Mi-17 choppers deployed, it has only one giant Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter operating in the flood-torn state. As it happens, the IAF doesn’t have a choice. All indications suggest that the IAF has only three Mi-26s left in its fleet, all based out of Chandigarh, and only one of them is serviceable at any given time. The Uttarakhand operations have emphasised the need for heavy-lift helicopters for humanitarian and disaster relief operations, especially in the difficult Himalayan terrain, where the effects of flashfloods and cloudburst frequently take on morbid proportions.
The Mi-26 is a formidable force multiplier, and has served the IAF well, however it is entirely unsuited for mountain operations, especially where landing grounds are small and frequently marred by superstructures and obstacles like rocks and terrain outcroppings. It is therefore with a sense of relief that the IAF will note that its selection of the Boeing Defense CH-47 Chinook last year is in its final stages of contract negotiation, with the deal likely to be signed before the end of this year. The deal for 15 Chinooks will meet a welldefined requirement by the IAF, with the Uttarakhand operations only stressing them further. The Chinook’s performance in recent regional disasters was one of the compelling factors in the selection, including the floods and earthquake in Pakistan, at which time Chinooks were deployed from Afghanistan for disaster relief and humanitarian rescue and evacuation. The Chinooks for India will be built at Boeing rotorcraft facility in Philadelphia.