So far, the IAF has been op­er­at­ing the Mi-25 and Mi-35 VIEWS

SP's Aviation - - NEWS - —BY AIR MAR­SHAL B.K. PANDEY (RETD)

at­tack he­li­copters that are of Rus­sian ori­gin. The Mi-25 fleet has al­ready been re­tired from ser­vice and the Mi-35 will fol­low suit in not too dis­tant a fu­ture. Cur­rently, only two squadrons re­main in ser­vice. Even though the gov­ern­ment has de­cided that in the fu­ture, at­tack he­li­copters will be in­ducted into the In­dian Army as well, this plat­form will con­tinue to be rel­e­vant for the IAF. As such, as a re­place­ment for the Mi-25 and to aug­ment the fleet of Mi-35 till it re­mains in ser­vice, the AH-64E Apache at­tack he­li­copter pro­duced by Boe­ing of the US, was se­lected in 2012 in a com­pe­ti­tion against the Rus­sian at­tack he­li­copter Mi-28. Thus it was that in Septem­ber 2015, Boe­ing was awarded a $1.4 bil­lion con­tract to sup­ply 22 of th­ese he­li­copter gun­ships for the IAF.

The AH-64E Apache is the world’s most ad­vanced, mul­ti­role com­bat he­li­copter. It has the ca­pa­bil­ity to op­er­ate in any kind of weather and can op­er­ate by night as well. It is cur­rently in use by the armed forces of a large number of na­tions across the globe in­clud­ing those of the US. The US Army in­ducted the first AH-64A Apache into ser­vice in Jan­uary 1984 and since then, the fleet has ac­cu­mu­lated around five mil­lion flight hours. The first he­li­copter of the batch of 22 of this iconic com­bat plat­form or­dered for the IAF, has com­pleted its maiden test flight in the re­cent past. Delivery of this ma­chine is ex­pected to com­mence in March 2019 and all 22 on or­der are sched­uled to be de­liv­ered to the IAF be­fore the end of 2022. A note­wor­thy fea­ture is that the fuse­lage of the Apache at­tack he­li­copter is now be­ing made in In­dia for the global mar­ket, by Tata Ad­vanced Sys­tems Lim­ited (TASL) lo­cated in Hy­der­abad.

The AH-64E Apache at­tack he­li­copter will come fit­ted with the highly ad­vanced AN/APG-78 Long­bow fire con­trol radar that gives this plat­form a fear­some rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing able to sneak up on the tar­gets, launch at­tacks from stand-off ranges with dev­as­tat­ing pre­ci­sion and suc­cess­fully counter threats from the ground while op­er­at­ing over en­emy ter­ri­tory. Apart from the anti-tank laser-guided Hell­fire pre­ci­sion strike mis­siles and a 30mm chin-mounted chain gun that is cued by the pi­lot’s hel­met sys­tem, the Apache at­tack he­li­copters to be in­ducted into the IAF will also carry anti-air­craft Stinger mis­siles, a re­quire­ment specif­i­cally pro­jected by the ser­vice. The cock­pit of the Apache will be far more so­phis­ti­cated than what IAF he­li­copters pi­lots would have seen in their ser­vice so far. The plat­form has large multi-func­tion dis­plays, sen­sor fu­sion over net­worked ar­chi­tec­ture with other air­craft and dig­i­tally shared graph­ics that en­able the Apaches plug­ging into a sys­tem that has for long been dom­i­nated by Rus­sian sys­tems that have not achieved the sort of net­worked en­vi­ron­ment re­quired in a modern bat­tle­field.

The IAF is likely to de­ploy the Apache at­tack he­li­copters at the air­base in Pathankot on the Western bor­der with Pak­istan and in Jorhat in Assam on the East­ern front against China. To­gether with the Apache at­tack he­li­copters that are ex­pected to be in­ducted into the In­dian Army, the to­tal fleet strength with the two ser­vices is ex­pected to be around 60. While this new plat­form is un­doubt­edly an ex­cel­lent choice and will meet the re­quire­ments of both po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary do­mains, one of the most chal­leng­ing tasks be­fore the IAF is to pre­pare the man­power re­quired to op­er­ate and main­tain the fleet for its op­ti­mum op­er­a­tional per­for­mance. To achieve this aim, the IAF has de­puted to the US, a group of per­son­nel con­sist­ing of a number of spe­cially se­lected he­li­copter pi­lots, ground engi­neers and a fairly large number of tech­ni­cians. The se­lected per­son­nel are al­ready un­der­go­ing pro­fes­sional train­ing with the agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for the train­ing of per­son­nel of the US armed forces. The du­ra­tion of train­ing is spe­cific for each dis­ci­pline and varies from three months to a year. With thor­ough pro­fes­sional ground­ing in the US, this team of se­lected per­son­nel will help es­tab­lish a proper train­ing fa­cil­ity in In­dia to sup­port the Apache fleet. This new com­bat plat­form to be in­ducted in the near fu­ture, will go a long way to en­hance the op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity of the IAF in the ro­tary wing seg­ment de­ployed in of­fen­sive role. There is no doubt that this fleet is go­ing to be a game-chang­ers for the IAF.

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