Let me fly, says army; stay grounded, says IAF

What are attack helicopters for? Answer: to fly forward and pound the enemy’s ground columns from the air. 

If the machines for use in ground battle, who should own them? We should, says the army. Our field commanders, who face the brunt of the battle, need them. They alone know where and when to employ them.

Put the question differently. If the machines are for pounding ground targets from the air, who should own them? We should, says the air force. The army can own and employ all machines that move on the ground. We own and guard the air; we know how to fly and maintain the flying machines; we only have the right to strike from the air—so goes the air force’s logic.

The army had been asking for its own attack helicopters and had strongly pitched for them when the government sanctioned purchase of 22 Apache attack helicopters for the IAF to replace their Russian-built Mr-25 and Mi-35. The army then was pacified with a promise that the follow-on orders to the 22 machines would be for the army. The time has come to redeem the promise, says the army.

Traditionally, the IAF has been the custodian of attack helicopters in India; they have a fleet of Russian-made Mi-25 and Mi-35. As these machines are slowly reaching the age of retirement, they are being replaced by the Apaches in the IAF fleet. Since all aviation engineers and expertise is with the air force, the service argues that it would be also economical for them to keep and maintain the attack heles too. “There is no need to duplicate the logistics,”said an air force officer.

But the army’s reasoning is that they already has flying expertise and expertise in maintaining flying machines. It already has an Army Aviation Corps, raised in 1986 when it needed extensive helicopter logistics support in the Siachen and Sri Lankan operations. The corps today owns more than 250 helicopters—Chetaks, Cheetahs (to be replaced soon by Kamovs) and the India-developed Dhruv, all unarmed helicopters used for reconnaissance and transport of men and material. The army’s logic is: if we can fly these, why can’t we be allowed to fly attack heles too?

Moreover, “look at the operational role,”points out Major.General R.K. Arora, executive editor of Indian Military Review. “Their main role is in manoeuvre warfare along with the tank corps. So they have to employed with the army, preferably with the armoured corps.”

The army claims to have expertise in armed flying too – they have a fleet of Rudra helicopters, which is a weaponised versions of the Dhruv. Rudras are not strictly attack helicopters that can be employed against armoured formations, but can be used against lightly armed infantry formations and against insurgents. The army has ordered a total of 60 Rudras from Hindustan Aeronautics, whereas the IAF has asked for only 16.

The Army is also in the process of modernising its chopper fleet as it is leading the acquisition process for procuring 200 Kamov light choppers for itself and the Air Force to replace its fleet of vintage Cheetah and Chetak helicopters for operations in high-altitude military bases.

In the long run, the army would like to have three attack helicopter squadrons for each of its corps. For starters it would have attack helicopters for each of the three strike corps, the formations which are meant for rapid penetration into the enemy territory.

The IAF’s argument is pivoted on inventory economy. Allowing the army to have its own aviation strike formations would lead to unnecessary costs—in terms of training pilots, maintaining depots, and even managing spare parts.

But the army’s counter is also based on tactical logic. “The air force can own all the strategic airspace it wants. But the tactical air space should belong to the army,”points our Arora. That’s why, he points out, the army has its own close air defence assets.





Source:- The Week

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