In a first, Army to fly attack helicopters: means reduced dependence on IAF - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 12 October 2012

In a first, Army to fly attack helicopters: means reduced dependence on IAF

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Oct 12

Ending a decade of friction between the army and the air force (IAF), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has finally made a decision: the army will hereafter operate the fleet of attack helicopters that provides crucial fire support to army troops in battle.

“We have received a letter from the defence ministry and we have been given the attack helicopters by the government,” Army Chief, General Bikram Singh told PTI today.

In a letter that was issued on Thursday, the MoD has ruled that the military’s entire attack helicopter fleet will be owned, operated and maintained by the army. This includes the 22 Apache AH-64D helicopters that are being procured from US company, Boeing Defence, Space and Security (BDS); as also a new-generation fleet of combat helicopters that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is currently developing. That will include 179 Light Combat Helicopters (LCHs) and 76 Rudras, which are a weaponised version of HAL’s Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH).

The IAF’s existing fleet of rapidly fading Russian Mi-25/35s, for long the world’s most heavily armed attack helicopter, will continue to be operated by the air force until they are retired from service.

The most immediate effect of this decision will be that, instead of IAF pilots, Army Aviation Corps pilots will be going to the US for training on the Apache AH-64D.

The MoD has also accepted the army’s long-standing request for Mi-17 medium lift helicopters to be located in army camps in J&K, so that heliborne contingents can be launched into operations without delay. The army says that heliborne operations are invariably delayed because a cumbersome IAF hierarchy takes too long to sanction the use of its helicopters.

For the IAF, which has zealously guarded its turf, especially the two attack helicopter squadrons that it has so far operated, this decision will come as a blow. On Monday, speaking at the 80th IAF day celebrations in Hindon, outside Delhi, the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne pooh-poohed the idea of the army having a dedicated combat support helicopter fleet, dismissively stating that “little air forces” cannot be allowed to sprout doing “their own things”.

Ignoring the fact that almost every major army in the world operates its own combat support aviation fleet, Browne flippantly wondered whether the navy would comply if the coast guard wants its own submarines.

The IAF has opposed the army’s acquisition of an aviation wing ever since the Army Aviation Corps was established in 1986. At that time, in the Joint Implementation Instructions, 1986, it was mandated that the Army Aviation Corps would operate only helicopters below 5 tonnes in weight. The IAF has successfully cited this document to block the expansion of the Army Aviation Corps.

The army, however, has argued --- ultimately successfully --- that the pace of battle today demands dedicated weapons platforms and command structures, and that aviation assets that are primarily designed for the land battle must be owned and operated by the army.

For years, the MoD has vacillated, postponing any decision. Defence Minister AK Antony recently dismissed the issue as “a family problem.”

For the army, this has been a long-festering sore. Says Lt Gen BS Pawar, who headed the Army Aviation Corps from 2004 to 2006: “the MoD has consistently avoided a decision. Whenever Army Aviation sent up a proposal relating to aviation assets, the MoD would send it to the IAF for comments, knowing full well that would effectively kill the proposal.”

In the absence of MoD clarity, both army and IAF were placing orders for attack helicopters. The army has ordered 60 Rudra from HAL, while the IAF has ordered 16.


  1. Rahul Samanta(Kolkata)12 October 2012 at 21:07

    Ajai ji,

    One clarification though I may be wrong...As per the statement of MOD after this decission, it was made clear that the immediate purchase of Apache is for IAF and not Army...

    As for the part that MOD has consistently avoided a decission, well, when has MOD made a decission? Anthony Firingi's happiest moment in life always comes when he has to avoid making a decission....

  2. The decision is good but at the time air force should also keep some attack choppers (of different type compared to army) to protect their bases & installations in case of enemy attack as jets can't be used in such scenario. If army gets apache,rudra,etc then let air force get mi28 or ka52 for the replacement of mi35.

  3. @Ajai sir

    I think ACM Browne made that acerbic statement b'coz he knew what was going to happen.

    It means Mi25/35 as also the AH64 Apache Longbow will go to army

    btw you say '179 Light Combat Helicopters (LCHs) and 76 Rudras'

    It means a squadron of LCH each for the pivot corps and strike corps, but what about the distribution of 76 Rudras.

    Also there is nothing mentioned about the armed Mi17s, lancers.

    Can you provide some insight, as to who the pilots will be, will the IAF pilots who were flying these machines now fly them wearing IA/AAC gear or new recruitment is needed?

    Whats the difference between Attack Helicopter and Combat Helicopter?

    Will the IAF AH64 Apache Longbow have the dome like radars on top of rotors?


    Joydeep Ghosh

  4. I wonder what numb-nuts fool around at MoD? War is not a judicious or efficient use of military resources, but synergy of all resources to achieve the objective of complete annihilation of enemy forces. In today's world, India is faced with myriad of assymetrical warfare threats, where the enemy uses hit-and-run tactics. Such threats require nimble tactical forces with all special assets at their complete disposal at any time. Indian forces still take pride in their British regimental military structure, which was totally proven obsolete by German Army during WW2 70 years ago. This fact, raises the hair on my neck. Wonder what other structural defects the Indian forces suffer from! Verbal bravado like the recent news articles about the 50th anniversary of 1962, where comments by AirForce chief show his character as a finger pointer is really very bad, Is this the type of leadership we foster in our Armed forces? A good manager is the one who delegates responsibility to his sub-ordinates. MoD surely should not think of itself as the Boss of the Armed forces, instead act simply as enabler of resources. The Armed forces are the domain experts in their own domains, while the MoD's civilian leadership is not. This was amply proven during 1962, when non-domain experts tried to run the war, we all know what happened. Let 1962 be a lesson to the MoD and NSA chair warmers, leave fighting to the warriors, your duty is to enable the warriors to fight with full confidence of victory. This news of Armed Choppers for Army is a really late decision, and is a relief welcome. Although this does not absolve MoD from its serious management deficiencies and criminal neglect of national security on pretext of being Idiots.

  5. Means... Strike formations will have... more teeth... and blund enemy formations...

  6. The decision took forever, but in the end they made the right call. I don't know why the IAF was fighting this.

    - Cujo

  7. It is good that Army will have their air Cavalry or flying horses (the real cavalry rather than "Mud Corps" cavalry) and helliborne assets: and medium sized helicopters to maintain their high altitude posts.

    Those with and without line-yards both can participate in flying and develop landed-air attitude rather then await for orders to flow down the IAF lands.

  8. ... ...

  9. I wonder if the armies desire for their own air power derives from the fact that the IAF was unwilling to provide helicopter support in the first few days of Kargil.

    1) While I think that the IAF was correct in judging the threat against helicopters at that altitude to be too high, the fact remains that the army remained support-less.

    2) As we are unable to have a smooth quick reaction process due to the bureaucracy currently in place during interactions between the army and air force, I think that the army is justified in its requirement.

    May 11th - May 25 14 days is a long time.

  10. so there will be two doctrines... russian doctrine for iaf... us doctrine for army ac...

  11. Although it is a somewhat late but certainly a good and desirable decision.

  12. MoD's 'divide and rule' policy between the Army and Air Force is going to be disastrous for the nation. instead of integration of the services, such steps would further isolate them..

  13. when will IAF get over this parochial attitude? The helicopter and transport fleet they are operating is solely for the movement of troops, stores , ammunition and supplies of the army, both across a theatre of war and in between them, and they too know it. But to augment their numbers and and for a false ego they want to keep the helicopters and transports buttoned up. When needed to be deployed,especially when time is at a premium, the IAF takes forever to materialise support, and not without its fair share of bureaucratese - forms to be filled, request to be made in triplicate, all subject to the approval of some vague Air Formation which can veto it. Having the attack and transport helicopters available in a cantt means if there is a requirement of a chopper to take off in a hurry and land a platoon of special forces soldiers in the path of infiltrating / fleeing terrorists, the army can do so without having to sent in three different forms of having to provide reasons to do so. People who have taken part in active operation will vouch for the fact that at times every second matters and this urgency can only be understood by the army pilots who have been in the thick of it, and not by isolated, cocooned and sheltered worlds that Air Force Stations tend to be.

    About time.............

  14. You wouldnt believe how happy the Army guys are going to be with this decision....about bloody time !!. Even in Siachen it was the Aviation guys who would risk their life and limb to rescue the poor infantry man. Logically this makes so much sense...Army guys understand the dangers, the difficulties and the sense of urgency the infantry needs..the reaction time is little. Don't get me wrong, no one braver than the Air Force pilots, but their sense of what the Army needs is often skewed and they are not ready when we need them. I feel some kind of personal victory as I have always associated with this issue in some form or the other in various areas when I served and have talked about it in various forums and blogs. I am sure the day is not far off when when the Aviation Corps will fly CAP's with LCA's in support of our Combat groups.. and Special Forces support.

  15. @Ajai, How do you feel, if Navy wants to have its own armored brigade ? (assuming Army doesn't to expose it's armored vehicles to corrosive salty air).

    By letting, Army to have its own little aviation corps, we are not solving the problem reported by Army (tedious process etc), we are just working around the problem. Till now, it was helis, tomorrow, it may be Close Air Support for Army, submarines for Coast Guard, armored cars for Navy & Airforce.. etc...

  16. why not have the helicopters with IAF, but keep them in a joint command under Army and IAF ?

  17. No, Cost Guard won't need submarines may very well need AUVs just like BSF which doesn't need MBT but might need ICVs or APVs or equivalent systems, that all because they are only guarding force and need surveillance systems with enough firepower for self defence.

    Submarines are offensive systems just like MBTs and neither of which has any place in these forces.

    ACM words are stupidly desperate and disgusting if i might add. I don't believe he is actually comparing need of an offensive military structure with that of a paramilitary's!!!!

    ACM's ego driven analogy made only fool of him and force that he is representing.

  18. Was ACM Browne determined to put his foot in his mouth? Assuming that the statement attributed to him is true.
    The fact of the matter is that the IAF has been constantly plagued by the attitude of "if it flies, its got to be ours"!
    Even the IN suffered this pig-headed stance of the IAF vis-a-vis Maritime Air Assets for a long time, till ACM Moolgavkar acted wisely enough.

    Even earlier on, post independence this tussle had taken place between the IAF and IN. Luckily for the IN: first of all, the IAF knew squat about operating the ships that the aircraft would operate from. Secondly, the plans for the creation of the Fleet Air Arm were drawn up by the British. So in a manner of speaking, we can thank Lord Louis Mountbatten (who blessed the plan)for creating the nucleus of that force. Not forgetting that the IN (in the English tradition) enjoyed the status of Senior Service!

    But till that happened, the IN had to suffer. While the MR operations of IAF's MAO sometimes assumed comic to absurd garbs.

    Now that AAC has been given its required air-assets; it ought to remember that they are not "Boy's Toys". And create a credible Doctrine of application of those assets. We need to remember that the IAF and IA were frequently not on the same page wrt CAS. Now the IA can take care of a major part of that.

    @Joydeep Ghosh
    Initially IAF pilots may well be seconded to fly the helos. But eventually they will be IA pilots who will be schooled in Land Warfare tactics as a base.
    It seems that 1 out of 3 Apaches will be fitted with the Longbow Radars. They will operate with non-Longbow helos both Apache and others via data-links as hunter-killer packs.


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