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Army Aviation
The Arm of the Future


By Gulshan Luthra Published: September 2011

New Delhi. India’s Army Aviation Corps is marking its Silver Jubilee this year with hopes of doubling its helicopter fleet and also inducting dedicating combat helicopters some time in the near future.


The Corps held a two-day seminar recently with the title “Army Aviation: The Arm of the Future,” clearing indicating its emphasis on the requirement of helicopters in possible future battles, which would be fluid and fast-changing, and would need capable flying machines to support the Indian Army’s armour and troops 24 x 7.

The Indian Army was stated to have half the strength of Pakistan Army’s helicopter fleet of more than 550, and of course, most of the helicopters with the Indian armed forces are in any case of Soviet vintage and outdated.

There was a general demand from serving and retired Army officers for moving the combat and heavy lift helicopters from the Indian Air Force to the Army for operationally better results. At present, IAF holds these assets, and IAF pilots operate them in coordination with the Army.

Defence Minister A K Antony, who inaugurated the seminar, said it would be best if the Armed Forces sorted out the matter of sharing assets between themselves and that if needed, he could help play a limited role. Former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Arun Prakash, also said that any inter-Services issues should be sorted out by the three Chiefs themselves, and that in the spirit of give-and-take, the Army and Navy should also accede to the IAF’s suggestion for exclusively controlling the Space Command.

The minister however said that the Government did understand the changing nature of warfare, terrorism and asymmetric threats, and was committed to the modernization of the Indian armed forces. But, he observed:

“Although you (Army Aviation Corps) are going in for force accretion, while enhancing your capabilities and performing your role, you must ensure that there is perfect synergy between the Army and Air Force. Services will have to act in reconciliation amongst themselves so that India can have better and strong and Armed Forces.”

Younger IAF and Army officers pointed out that the exist ing arrangement had worked well in terms of IAF-Army coordination but senior officers observed that it would be best if Army pilots flew the helicopters in the battlefield in close support of their colleagues on the ground. That was the trend the world over, and should be so in case of India also.

Notably, IAF is set to acquire 22 combat helicopters and 15 heavy lift helicopters from a choice of US and Russian machines – depending upon the capabilities and price – but these are paid for out of the Army’s budget as they would be used for support of the ground troops. For a country the size of India, this is a relatively small number, and there would perhaps be a repeat acquisition in the coming years.

At present, both the heavy lift and combat helicopters with the IAF are of 25-year Soviet vintage with obsolete onboard systems. IAF has already submitted the technical evaluation reports to the Ministry of Defence and a decision is expected by year-end or March 2012.

Officers from the Navy, Air Force, think tanks and paramilitary bodies also took part in the seminar, co-hosted by the Army Aviation and the Centre for Land Warfare studies (CLAWS), the Indian Army’s think tank.

Army Chief Gen V K Singh said that emergence of 4th and 5th generation threats, increasing tempo, net centric warfare and newer weapons had placed new demands for capability and strength and all assets of the Army have to be made integral to a theatre of operation.

Army Aviation provides a commander the opportunity to maneuver and “fleeting opportunities” in a battle can be effectively exploited by airborne assets.

Adm Arun Prakash, a naval aviator, said in his Special address that the power of aviation is “omnipotent” and that once air dominance is achieved in the battle theatre, “the war is virtually won.” Aviation assets can play a role in achieving decisive victories, “swiftly and cheaply.”

Lt Gen V K Ahluwalia, Colonel Commandant of the Corps, gave a brief history of its evolution when it was first raised on Nov 1, 1986 from the Artillery’s Air Observation Post (AOP) units. Its pilots later flew in operations in Sri Lanka as well as in India.

Helicopters and air assets, he said, would help in dislocation of an adversary in the shortest possible time, and simultaneously, provide the benefits of surprise, maneuver, capability and logistics support to own units. He also emphasized on the requirement of multi role aircraft with electronic warfare and night attack capabilities.

Lt Gen Anil Chait observed that aviation is a great asset, “giving the power of the edge” to the Indian Army’s field commanders. It can help concentrate combat power at the right place, compress time lines and facilitate multi-tasking. Integrated employment of air land battle assets can disrupt an enemy’s buildup and facilitate speedy victory.

He pointed out that the future battles would be Technology driven, all weather, day and night 24 x 7, and dominated by aviation assets including the UAVs and UCAVs. Accordingly, the Indian Army has to keep up with the technologies and pace of changes to make its aviation assets a game changer.

It will be “the arm of decision,” he observed.

The seminar was also addressed by Brig Gurmeet Kanwal, Director CLAWS, Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi (Retd), Lt gen K S Jamwal (Retd), Lt Gen V G Patankar (Rtetd), Lt Gen Sumer Singh, HAL’s Helicopter Division Managing Director Soundra Rajan, Lt Gen B S Pawar (Retd) and Lt Gen V K Kapoor (Retd).

Maj Gen P K Bharali, Additional Director General of the Army Aviation, briefed the participants on the growth of the Corps.

It may be noted that from 1984 onwards, Army Aviation has been in the forefront of operations to control the icy peaks in the Siachen Glacier, which is perhaps the ultimate frontier for any soldier. Army Aviators routinely operate at 22,000 feet around the glacier, providing the proverbial lifeline for Indian soldiers in the tough terrain there.

The Army Aviation Corps has taken part in a number of UN missions, and several disaster relief operations within India.

The Corps inducted the first HALmade Advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv in 2001. Since then, this fleet has grown rapidly and is already on the path to becoming its mainstay for day and night operations.

Army Aviation is also set to acquire the Mark III Electronic Warfare (EW) and Mark IV armed version of ALH in the coming few months.

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