GUEST COLUMN | Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)

Caught in the Mire
Army Aviation is a force multiplier which can tilt the balance in any future conflict
In August 1947 the assets of the erstwhile British 1 Air observation post flight (AirOP), the Auster fixed wing two-seater aircraft were divided between India and Pakistan. Thus came into existence the AirOP units operating the Auster, Krishak and Pushpak two-seater fixed wing aircraft as part of air force, in the initial stages of the Air OP growth. The main role of the AirOP was observation and direction of artillery fire. Modernisation of the army consequent to the debacle in Indo-China conflict of 1962 and lessons learnt from Indo-Pak war 1965, resulted in many changes in concepts and application of warfare in India. The AirOP was expected to be the eyes in the air for ground forces and it needed aircraft to match the changed requirement. This resulted in the induction of light helicopters into the AirOP, to replace the vintage Auster and Krishak. The French Alloutte and subsequently the high altitude war horse ‘Lama’ were inducted into service. These were rechristened Chetak and Cheetah helicopters subsequently. Concerted efforts throughout this period to form an Army Aviation Corps yielded no results and the AirOP units continued to remain part of the Air force. The case for raising of Army Aviation Corps (AAC) dates back to 1963 when General J.N. Chaudhary, then COAS stressed the requirement for a separate air wing for the army while discussing the issue with the ‘Select Body on Aviation’ headed by JRD Tata.

He opined that efforts at increasing the firepower and mobility of the army would not be complete without an aviation element comprising, light, medium and heavy as well as armed helicopters organic to it. It is no surprise that the above body also recommended immediate creation of AAC. It is a sad commentary on our political and bureaucratic-apathy towards matters of defence that it took nearly 23 years to finally break away from the air force and become an independent Corps of the army in November 1986. The organisation of the AAC sanctioned was nowhere near that envisaged in 1963 and continues to remain so even today, lacking the wherewithal to be a full-fledged AAC. The road to expansion and capability enhancement still remains a long one, to fully meet the synergy and operational requirements of the army in the modern day battlefield.
Also in this Section
China has renewed support to Northeast insurgents by Maj. Gen. Sheru Thapliyal
Obama’s Operation by Radhavinod Raju
First Person by Ghazala Wahab
Bottomline by Pravin Sawhney
  Force Structure
Despite the AAC becoming a full-fledged arm of the army in 1986, its growth has been haphazard and the Corps continues to be plagued by many infirmities. Foremost amongst these is the opposition of the air force, whenever the question of expansion of the role of army aviation comes up for discussion. Essentially, the opposition relates to turf with the air force holding on to those assets that logically must come under the ambit of the army.

Today, the AAC has the largest number of helicopters amongst the three services, majority being of the reconnaissance and observation class (Chetak and Cheetah). Despite this, it has very few helicopters to carry out a number of extremely specialised roles in the tactical battle area. While the induction of the light utility helicopter (ALH) has commenced, the medium and heavy lift helicopters which form the core of the tactical lift capability, continue to be with the air force. Hence, the dependence of the army on the air force for tactical movements
continues to be near  total. A similar situation exists with regards to attack helicopter units, which despite being an integral part of the land battle, remain with the air force. Their optimum employment in such a scenario is not possible in the present set up. The army’s requirement of small fixed wing aircraft in limited numbers for important roles like command and control, aerial communication hubs, logistics including casualty evacuation and communication flights has also not fructified due to objections of the air force. This, despite the fact that the Indian Navy, the Coast Guard and even the Central Police Forces like the Border Security Force have fixed wing aircraft in their inventory.

A survey of military aviation organisations, within and outside the country reveals the inadequacies of our army aviation. At present army aviation assets are inadequate for the size of the Indian Army and the tasks it is required to perform. The expansion of the AAC is therefore imperative. The army aviation should possess a mix of light fixed wing aircraft and all categories of helicopters including attack helicopters/gunships for various roles like reconnaissance, surveillance, combat fire support, airborne command posts, combat service support, special operations and logistics.
Comments(0) Share
[View Full Story]
  © 2012 FORCE ARROWHEAD MEDIA PVT. LTD. All Rights Reserved.