|By Gulshan Luthra||Published: August 2017|
New Delhi. The Government has sanctioned six Boeing Apache AH 64E attack helicopters for the Indian Army, marking a beginning for its Aviation Corps for these flying tanks.
The Army had actually projected a requirement of 39 attack helicopters, 13 for each of its three Strike Corps, but has been given approval in principle for 33 machines. It was also decided that 11 Apaches under the Options clause in the Indian Air Force (IAF) contract for 22 Apaches would go to the Army but only six of these are being taken.
Under the Options clause, valid till September 2017, India can buy 11 machines, or 50 per cent of those ordered, at the same price as those contracted for IAF in 2015. The option for the remaining five is now lapsed.
The six Apaches will cost Rs 4168 Crores (approx. $640 million) with weapons and spares.
Delivery for most defence equipment globally is 36 months after the first payment is made to seal the contract. The 22 Apaches ordered by IAF are already under construction at the Boeing facility in Mesa, Arizona.
MoD sources indicated that the Government is trying to clear various backlogs. Hence the best possible use is being made of available funds and for the time being, only six Apaches are being taken. All the three Services actually have long pending requirements, and funding has to be rationalized for the coming next years.
According to sources, the Army Aviation Corps’ projection is for 33 Boeing Apaches, 114 HAL Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) and about 70 Rudras, the armed version of HAL Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH).
Reacting to the MoD’s announcement, Boeing India President Pratyush Kumar said: “Boeing welcomes the opportunity to support the Indian Army on their requirements. The AH-64E Apache is the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopter. With this development, we look forward to supporting all three Indian defense forces – the Air Force, Navy and now the Army.”
He pointed out, significantly, that “under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India initiative, AH-64 Apache fuselages and other aero structures are (now) being manufactured at the Tata Boeing Aerospace joint venture facility in Hyderabad.”
Notably, the AH 64E model is the latest and also now being inducted by the US Army. Similarly, the Boeing P 8I, another formidable aircraft, to hunt submarines, has been inducted nearly at the same time by the US and Indian navies.
With its latest war technologies, the Boeing Apache is deadly for an enemy because of its multi-role, multi-mission day-and-night all weather strike capability. Because of its Lockheed Martin Longbow combat radar, the helicopter’s pilots can locate an enemy hidden deep in foliage and neutralize the target with precision attack Hellfire – also by Lockheed Martin – missiles.
For air-to-air defence, it is equipped with Raytheon’s famous Stinger missiles, which are also on offer to India for its indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) if India opts for them.
Then of course, there are rockets and machine guns, target acquisition and night vision systems, enabling its two pilots to literally make the mincemeat of a target.
Normally, one out of every three Apaches is equipped with the Longbow combat radar, but then, it is up to a user to enhance or reduce this requirement. The exact figure for these radars for Indian forces is not known.
Boeing has sold more than 2,200 Apaches since 1986 with mandatory approval from the US Government under its Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme for combat systems.
It may be noted that IAF operates its combat helicopters – at present Soviet vintage Mi 35s – in coordination with the Army, and there are always some Army officers posted in IAF units accordingly. In case of hostilities, all the IAF and Army assets work together, and so would the 22 + 6 Apaches.
The Apache is powered by two General Electric gas turbine engines and can be in the air for three hours. It has capability to search and attack multiple targets simultaneously. Secure frequency hopping terrestrial and satellite connectivity onboard is standard while its fuel tanks are self-sealing in case of a hit.