The Rise of Rotorcraft

Induction of Apache and Chinook helicopters will boost the IAF’s strength

Yunus Dar

The induction of the Apache and Chinook helicopters this year by the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been a momentous milestone for the force. The IAF’s helicopter fleet has steadily been increasing over the years, going up from a handful of US types in the Sixties to over 500 French, Indian and Soviet built types. The Mi-26, however, remains the potent force in the IAF’s heavy lift helicopter capability. Most of the rotorcraft are medium lift helicopters (MI-17/MI-17IV/MI-17V5 and Mi-8s), with over two hundred of these types serving in helicopter units throughout the country, playing a vital logistic support role.

IAF’s newly-acquired Chinook helicopter

Induction of the Mi-17 V5, the most technically advanced helicopters of the Mi-8/17 type, was a quantum jump in the IAF’s medium heli-lift capability in terms of the avionics, weapon systems as well as its hot and high-altitude performance. The medium lift helicopters of the IAF are operated for commando assault tasks, ferrying supplies and personnel to remote mountain helipads, carrying out SAR (Search and Rescue Operations) and logistic support tasks in the island territories, Siachen Glacier, apart from armed role.

The Indian armed forces are faced with huge operational diversities, and with wide variance of terrain (from sea level to high altitude), the IAF needs advanced helicopters capable of operating both by day and night in a complex battlefield environment of future. The ministry of defence is planning to induct over 1,000 helicopters in the coming decade ranging from attack and high-altitude reconnaissance to medium and heavy lift variants. The Indian military has an inventory of about 600 helicopters of all types and class including specialised ones but majority of these have exceeded their life-span, are either obsolete or nearing obsolescence.

India’s signing of a deal for purchasing upgraded version of 22 Apache Longbow Attack Helicopters and 15 Chinook Heavy Lift Helicopters does add new capability, but the country has to go a long way before the entire fleet is reliable and capable of undertaking modern operations.


Combat Helicopters

AH-64E Apaches: With the IAF taking delivery of the first eight AH-64E helicopters in July 2019, the IAF’s combat capability has received a major boost. The Indian government signed a deal for USD1.4 billion to acquire the Apache helicopters in September 2015, with a follow-on order for six more being processed for the Indian Army. The defence ministry envisages a demand for at least 50 more Apaches over the next decade.

The Apaches will serve with the IAF’s 125 Helicopter Squadron (125 H SQUADRON) deployed at Pathankot. The force is expected have a fleet of 22 of these most potent battlefield helicopters by 2020. The squadrons holding these assets will consist of 10 helicopter gunships, including two Ah-64Es in reserve. The IAF said about the Apaches, alongside the capability to shoot fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missiles, air-to-air missiles, rockets and other ammunition, it also has modern EW (electronic warfare) capabilities to provide versatility to the helicopter in network-centric aerial warfare.

The first attack helicopter squadron of the IAF, raised as 125 (H) Sqn (GLADIATORS) in 1983 and equipped with Mi-25 helicopter Gunships. The Mi-35 was inducted in April 1990. 104 (H) Sqn was re-equipped with Mi-35 in 1990.


Rudra: India’s indigenous attack helicopter, Rudra, is manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), for the Indian Army. It is the Weapon System Integrated (WSI) Mk-IV variant of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). Rudra is the first armed helicopter being produced indigenously in India. The HAL Rudra helicopter can be deployed in wide range of missions, including reconnaissance, troop transport, anti-tank warfare and close air support. Rudra has an Electronic Warfare Suite, Electro-optical (EO) Pod, and capable of air-to-air missile firing.

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