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.

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