Deliveries to start in March 2019 amid the tussle between the army and IAF over ownership of the Apaches
As the first batch of Boeing’s US-built heavy-lift Chinook and Apache attack helicopters prepare to be delivered to India in March 2019, the country is readying to add more teeth to its operational capabilities. As the Indian media reported in January 2019, the Chinooks have left the US shores and are expected to arrive in India in February 2019.
The Boeing AH-64 Apache is an American twin-turboshaft attack helicopter with a tailwheel-type landing gear arrangement. Being an advanced multi-mission helicopter for the US Army and many other countries, CH-47F Chinook is a prominent heavy-lift platform capable of operating in any environment. The helicopter is armed with a fully integrated, digital cockpit management system, Common Aviation Architecture Cockpit and advanced cargo-handling capabilities that complement the aircraft’s mission performance and handling characteristics.
After a long delay of three years, the deal having been finalised in September 2015 came into fruition only in July 2018. The USD3 billion deal for 15 Chinook and 22 Apache attack helicopters was a major one and very significant for India’s armed forces and involves an option to buy six more Apaches for which the US administration has given the nod. The contract also comes with a clause that enables India to place follow on orders for 11 more Apache and seven Chinooks.
However, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force (IAF) were at loggerheads when in September 2015 the deal for advanced helicopters was signed for the IAF. The army wanted its own squad of 39 Apache helicopters to arm itself against Pakistan and China along the borders and have significant edge over the neighbouring countries. That figure finally went down to six, and the deal was finally signed in July 2018 by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), led by the then defence minister Arun Jaitley. The deal worth Rs 4,100 was cleared for the army to equip itself with the six Apaches with Boeing.
The stalemate between the army and the IAF seems to continue till today about who will operate the attack helicopters. Army Chief Bipin Rawat on 10 January 2019 said the two services were reaching a consensus on the role of Apaches, asserting that it is a ‘tank killer’, he said it needs to be grouped with the army’s strike formations and will provide necessary support for mechanised columns. He acknowledged it will be the IAF which will get the coveted helicopters first, maintaining that they were still deciding on who will control them.
The Army Chief said that the army was trying to ‘explain’ to the IAF on how future battles will be fought. “Because if you are going to use the Apache, it is going to be in our support. It’s for the mechanised formations. So, whether you operate, or we operate, we can take a call. There is some kind of understanding that is coming. But then they say what about countering the adversary’s helicopter, so for that also we have something,” he had said during the conference.
The Chandigarh air base will house the Chinook helicopters, which is the nodal airbase for air logistics to the critical Siachen and Eastern Ladakh sector defence bases, while the Apaches will be handed over to the Indian forces and stationed at Ghaziabad’s Hindon airbase.
The 30 per cent offset clause that comes with the contract will ensure added business advantages for the indigenous defence industry, tipped to be worth USD one billion. While the Chinooks will directly be procured from Boeing, the deal for Apaches involves the US government which is supplying its weapons and electronic warfare suites through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route.
AH-64D Apache Longbow comes with longer-range weapons accuracy and all-weather/night fighting, detection of objects (moving or stationary) without being detected, classification and threat-prioritisation of up to 128 targets in less than a minute, integrated sensors, networking, and digital communications for situational awareness, management of the combat arena in real time, and digital transmission of images and target locations to joint operations battlefield commanders. The Apache also can fully control UAVs.
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