After Air Force, Indian Army may acquire 39 Apache Helicopters to enhance fire power at Pak-China borders
The Indian Army is planning to pitch for acquiring a fleet of lethal Apache attack helicopters in a key meeting with Defence Minister Arun Jailtley scheduled this weekend. Highly placed sources in the Army told Mail Today that the combat helicopters for its aviation wing will enhance the firepower of its strike forces along the borders with China and Pakistan.
Aggressive air support is crucial for advancing ground troops in a short-term strike.
“The Army wants the latest version of the American Apache 64D attack choppers from the US through the Foreign Military Sales case for its aviation arm,” the sources said. The Army seeks to buy 39 units at a cost of more than Rs 12,000 crore.
If the procurement gets the ministry’s approval, it will make the Army one of the biggest operators of these choppers in the country; the Air Force recently finalised a contract for 22 of these flying machines.
The Army has been in a bitter tug of war with the Air Force over the control of attack helicopters for it feels that its own personnel flying the choppers would be in a better position to help ground forces during a conflict because they understand land warfare better than the Air Force personnel.
IAF DOES NOT WANT TO SHARE ::
“We had requested the IAF to give the 22 Apaches to us but they did not agree. Even the proposition of sharing 50 per cent of these assets with us was not agreed upon by them,” an Army officer said.
About the plan to acquire 39 choppers, the sources said the choppers would be divided into three squadrons of 10 each and would be deployed along both the China and Pakistan with the Strike Corps. The Army is 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.
The Army has already placed orders for a number of indigenous attack helicopter variants which will include around 60 Rudra helicopters which are weaponised versions of the HAL-made ALH Dhruv choppers. “We would also be the biggest operators of the indigenously developed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) being developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited as the 97 of them would be deployed with different Corps headquarters,” the sources said.
Based on a study by a recently retired Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), it was felt that the force required at least three squadrons of these advanced Apache helicopters with the strike corps with three choppers each with every squadron as reserve. The Army operates a larger fleet of light utility choppers than the Air Force and has been asking for control over medium lift and attack choppers since the 1990s.
In 2012, then National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon decided that all future acquisitions of attack choppers would be for the ground force. However, the IAF refused to part with the Apaches saying it had started the acquisition process before 2012. The IAF already operates two squadrons of the Russian-origin Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters which are deployed close to the frontlines on the Pakistan border and frequently take part in war games with the Army.