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Future Wars Require Strong Army Aviation


By Maj Gen Dhruv Katoch (Retd) Published: January 2012

New Delhi. The Defence Minister, while speaking at a seminar organised by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies last year, had said that the government was aware of the pace of military modernisation by countries in the neighbourhood and stressed the point that modernisation and transformation of India’s conventional forces must focus on capabilities to enable reacting on a real time basis. This then must lie at the heart of India’s war preparedness for future conflict. Later, last month in December, in another seminar organised by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies to commemorate India’s greatest victory in 1971, a key lesson of the war which emerged was the need to apply all elements of combat power in the limited time available to achieve decisive results before conflict termination takes place.


That future wars will be short and intense is well accepted by the military. Geostrategic factors and the reality that conflict will take place in a nuclear environment points to wars of limited duration in which all elements of combat power must be optimally used to achieve decisive results. The fluidity of operations in the tactical battle area demands quick decision making and swift deployment and utility of response resources. Failure to do so will lead to sub optimal utilisation of combat resources and missing out on fleeting opportunities which such conflicts bring about. This could well lead to stalemate rather than outright victory and in some cases even to suffering disproportionate losses in battle. Two key elements for achieving decision in the close battle are firepower and manoeuvre.

Exploiting the third dimension through the rotary wing is essential to achieving quick success in the tactical battle area as it is both an element of manoeuvre and a deliverer of firepower. Integration of all resources within the tactical battle area is thus critical to achieving battlefield success. In high intensity battle, dual command and control of resources is undesirable and could have potential adverse consequences. While the land based resources are integrated in a single command, attack and utility helicopters which are part of army resources in all modern armies in the West and also in the armies of Pakistan and China are still being maintained exclusively as Air Force assets in the Indian military. While the Air Force may continue to have helicopters based on its role, the Army must have its aviation units equipped with attack and utility helicopters in addition to the helicopters used for reconnaissance which it currently holds. They must be further be organised into aviation brigades at the Corps level to fight the close battle, both in defensive and offensive operations.

Why is it necessary for the army to have its own aviation brigades? Is it simply a matter of expansion and getting into the turf of a sister service? The answer is an emphatic No. The concept of fighting modern wars revolves around the all arms combat team concept wherein all infantry, artillery and mechanised forces resources are placed along with all operational and logistic support elements under one commander. In modern wars, the rotary wing is part of this combat team concept. All troops have to not only live and train together, but must have complete understanding of each other’s strength and capabilities and a total comprehension and knowledge of ground warfare. This is what is being done by US and NATO forces currently engaged in Afghanistan and earlier in Iraq. The Pakistan Army has already integrated its attack and utility helicopters as part of its army aviation and so has the Chinese Army. India cannot afford to be lax on this score. Fluidity of the battlefield imposes exceptionally heavy demands on the Force wherein change in battlefield tasks will occur in an ongoing battle. Such tasks will be impossible to execute unless the Indian Army’s aviation corps is equipped with attack and utility helicopters. We cannot afford to fail on this count.

There is a fear in some quarters that the growth of army aviation would be at the cost of air force assets. There is however no basis for such an apprehension. All professional armies of the world have their own fully equipped aviation arms, because even the best air forces have severe limitations in carrying out many operational tasks which are intimately concerned with the land battle, especially in the tactical battle area. The report by the Kargil Review Committee was specific on this point and recommended that Army Aviation have its own attack and utility helicopters for the close battle. While our Air Force is highly professional and competent in performing its well-defined strategic role, it should not be asked to do what the Army is supposed to. The Air Force is a strategic asset, best employed in depth areas.

Army aviation being equipped with attack and utility helicopters is thus not at the expense of the Air Force which has a major role to play in suppressing enemy air capability, causing attrition to and preventing the movement of his strategic reserves, destroying his communication infrastructure and command and control facilities among other strategic tasks. But certain operational and logistics tasks are best performed by integral resources of the Army because of the intimate nature of support and the need for immediate application of aviation assets. It is not possible for air forces to carry out such tasks, however efficient they may be. Conflicts in various parts of the world have further reinforced this, as it is only integral aviation resources that would provide the field force commander real-time battlefield flexibility and consequent enhancement in combat power.

The Indian Army must be given the capabilities currently available to the Western Armies and, more importantly, to both Pakistan and China. As stated by India’s Army Chief, ‘Army Aviation is the arm of the future and must be appropriately equipped’. We cannot afford to tarry any longer on this score. We are already a couple of decades late.

The author is Additional Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

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