Signalling an end to decades long tug-off war between Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army, the country’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has in a recent meet cleared the latter’s request to operate its own air force, albeit, in the form of attack helicopters only. The country’s top acquisition decision making body, Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Defence Minister Arun Jaitley meeting on August 17, 2017, has given its in-principle nod to enable the army to acquire six Apache combat helicopters from USA.
For the INR 4,168 crore deal, it is learnt that India is exercising the follow-on clause of the last year’s $3 Billion Indo-US deal for arming the IAF with at least 22 similar Apache multi-role combat helicopters. Under the deal, the army besides receiving the helicopter and associated maintenance equipments will also be acquiring hundreds of Longbow, Stinger and Hellfire ATGM missiles, which promises to boost army’s strike power along the border regions.
MoD’s decision to enable army’s aviation corps to operate these platforms comes as a huge relief to the force which had been echoing the need for these armed platforms to support its infantry operations along the frontlines. Successive efforts of the army in the past had gone in vein as every other acquisition including the prior deals for Mi-35 and Apache combat helicopters had been routed to the air force.
But the army’s tiring efforts received a break when the former UPA government during the conclusion of the first Apache deal had ruled that any further acquisitions of rotary offensive platforms would go to the army alone. Progress in army’s efforts there on to acquire at least three dozens of Apaches was extremely slow owing to the stiff resistance from the air force.
MoD’s recent decision to allow the army to acquire these rotary platforms has signalled the rise of a new dawn in the army’s aviation corps. The deal, however, has been received with caution by the army as the ministry has cleared only a part of its request. Sources in the MoD have indicated that even though the follow-on clause enabled India to acquire 11 Apaches the ministry exercised it for only half a dozen helicopters considering the truncated annual outlay for capital acquisitions.
With DAC’s approval in place, the deal will now be forwarded to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by the Prime Minister for a final approval. It will be at least another six months before a formal deal is concluded between India and US for these choppers further on the delivery of these platforms will tentatively begin only after the air force receives its lot of 22 helicopters.
Following the delivery, these choppers according to former officers of the aviation corps will be deployed along the Western Theatre supporting the I, II and XXI Strike Corps which have all been put in-charge of launching armoured offensives against India’s arch rival Pakistan in times of conflict. World over, all major army forces have an integral air-borne offensive fire power which works in lieu with the artillery and combat engineers to secure the battlefield for the infantry.
The Apache’s armed with a plethora of offensive weapons can spell hawk over reinforced structures and armoured columns effectively enabling the infantry to make greater inroads into enemy territory with very minimum resistance. Army eventually plans to raise at least three Apache squadrons, with each squadron consisting 13 of these state-of-the-art-helicopter. These squadrons will be placed under the strike corps stationed along the Western and Northern theatre. Air power projection remains critical to India as it faces uncertainty along its border.