By Sanjay Kumar
If there were any illusions about an expanded, full-fledged and independent army aviation corps, it was suitably rested by the Union defence minister A.K. Antony at the recent day-long National Seminar on Army Aviation organised jointly by the army aviation corps and Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).
In his address at the Seminar, the defence minister said, “Although army aviation is 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 the air force.” Emphasising on the changes the three services are undergoing in terms of modern equipment and doctrines, defence minister stressed upon the importance of synergy between the three services.
And to ensure that there was no doubt about the future of the Corps, he added for good measure, “The two Services will have to act in cooperation amongst themselves so that India can have a better and stronger armed force. In your attempt at reconciliation, I will try to play a limited role.” For a minister accused of not taking timely decisions, Antony did not mince his words while stating the ministry’s position in the case of aviation acquisition, in particular, of the rotary variety. In response to a query on the new attack helicopter for the army, he said, “The procurement of the attack helicopters is in the process. As far as the modernisation of the armed forces is concerned, money will not be the problem. The government recognises that India must modernise its forces and increase its capabilities.”
Earlier in his address, Antony alluded to India’s neighbourhood. “India is a peaceful nation but it is determined to secure its own borders. The government is aware that some nations are augmenting their infrastructure and modernising their military capabilities but our efforts should be on strengthening our infrastructure which is going at a steady pace,” he said, adding, “Today terrorism, international disputes and conventional warfare are challenges we need to tackle.”
In the inaugural address by Lt Gen. V.K. Ahluwalia, GOC-in-C Central Command, he said “Aviation corps is the youngest in the Indian Army and it will help us in future for nimble manoeuvre, mobility and combatant support. Rather than having different platforms, it is better to have a single platform such as multi-role helicopters which will be cost effective and will provide many features like reconnaissance, surveillance and attack capabilities based on threat assessments.”
The linearity of warfare is also changing gradually from conventional operations to ‘fourth and fifth’ higher generation warfare that also encompasses sub conventional conflicts. Being the manoeuvre force in the third dimension format it forms the centrepiece of land force operations. “There is a need to have network centric environment to tackle fourth and fifth generation field threats as boundaries are blurring and operation are becoming non-linear in nature. And, it is here that army aviation becomes the force of the future augmenting capabilities and vital interest of nation as well as the army,” said the Chief of Army Staff, General V.K. Singh.
Clearly, it is pivotal that these aviation resources are available ‘on call’ to the field force commander in the TBA (tactical battle area) for deployment in shortest span of time. To achieve this capability there will be a need to streamline all aviation resources which should be provided as integral resources to the field force commander. Acknowledging this, the COAS said, “The aviation resources should be utilised to look deep and strike deep.” As the turf war wages between the army and IAF regarding the role of army aviation in tactical battle area the chief said, “It is already under discussion and a suitable solution will come out.”
On the issue of attack and Light Utility Helicopters, General Singh said, “It has been mutually decided between air force and army in consultation with the ministry.” When asked about the number of Cheetals to be added in the near future, he said, “The number of Cheetals joining the Army Aviation is not finalised yet.”
Admiral Arun Prakash (retd), being a naval aviator, was invited to give a special address. He emphasised that the dominant post-war theme which emerged was that air power would become the single decisive factor in all future conflicts, because long range strategic bombing would be instrumental in breaking the enemy’s will to fight. On the present day situation, he said, “There is an urgent requirement for India’s unique strategic environment, to address the question of how the notion of ‘indivisibility of air power’ can be reconciled with practical needs of the army, navy and air force. A free and open dialogue about aviation roles at the highest levels of the three services will provide an answer to some vexed issues and determine the future prospects of army aviation.”
Speaking to FORCE on the sidelines of the seminar, ADG, Army Aviation, Maj. Gen. P.K. Bharali, underlined the fact that the importance of TBA has increased manifold and army aviation will play a very important role in future wars which will be swift, soft and intense.
Clearly, for the aviation corps, the end of the seminar was just the beginning of new horizons. As Lt Gen. V.G. Patankar (retd.) said, “Employment of army aviation is limited more by the imagination of force commanders and less by its technical capabilities.”