Attack Choppers to Add Teeth to Indian Army's Strike Corps
By N.C. Bipindra
New DelhiMay 18
With the rapid evolution of battlefield concepts, the Indian Army is preparing to shore up its aviation wing with attack and tactical-lift capabilities to increase the punch of its three potent strike corps, a concept fine-tuned during a just-concluded war game in the Rajasthan desert close to the Pakistan border, defence analysts say.With the strike corps tasked to slice through the enemy's defences, the helicopters will supplement this by the quick insertion of fully-armed soldiers and their heavy weaponry, as also provide close air support to the troops and the armoured elements, a senior officer of the army's Ambala-based 2 Kharga Corps explained.
It was this transformational doctrine that was validated during the month-long exercise Vijayee Bhava (Be Victorious), even though the army does not operate any attack helicopters in its aviation wing at present and has to depend on the Indian Air Force (IAF) for them, the officer added.
"The strike corps trains for rapid mobilisation and resolute application. Mechanised (battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers) manoeuvres are the essence of offensive operations. In the future battlefield, air assets will play a decisive role. With the exponential increase in the air assets with the army and the air force, these will be employed in an integrated manner to gain a decisive edge in combat. This is the first time we have used the combat air assets in such an exercise," the officer told IANS, but speaking strictly on condition of anonymity as he was not supposed to speak to the media directly.As per the army's plans for its aviation wing -- mooted in 2007 and to be implemented over a 15-year period ending 2022 -- the three strike corps would be beefed up with an aviation brigade comprising two squadrons of 12 attack helicopters each, apart from two squadrons with 15 choppers each for tactical battle reconnaissance and casualty evacuation, top army sources said.
Apart from the 1, 2 and 21 strike Corps, the army will also provide aviation brigades to each of its 10 pivot or defensive corps, but these would essentially be in the nature of tactical lift capabilities, with some offensive elements.
At present, the army relies on two squadrons of Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters and Mi-17 medium-lift choppers of the IAF for testing its transformational concepts.
Defence ministry officials, when asked about the army's aviation plans, said the IAF would continue to play a "strategic" role while the army would acquire its air assets for a "tactical" role.
The army, obviously, wants to have "full command and control" over the "tactical" operations of air assets so that it could meet its rapid deployment needs and for combat air support.
The army is already looking at procuring 114 of the indigenously-developed light combat helicopter (LCH), which took to the skies for the first time in March 2010, and 64 of which IAF is buying.
This apart, the army is in the process of acquiring 133 light utility helicopters for USD 1.9 billion, along with the IAF's 64 for USD 960 million, as part of a 197-chopper deal for which Eurocopter's AS550-C3 Fennec and Russia's Kamov Ka-226 are in the race. These would replace the 150 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters of 1970s vintage in the army aviation fleet which are extensively used for transportation in high-altitude areas, including the Siachen Glacier.
(N.C. Bipindra can be contacted at email@example.com