Heavy lift helicopters are a necessity for any well-equipped armed force
The military uses helicopters to move troops and get supplies to ships and in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). Helicopters can rescue people in hard-to-reach places like mountains or oceans. Helicopters can do things that airplanes cannot — they can take off or land without a runway and also hover in the air in one spot.
Many of the Indian Army’s outposts are located in areas which do not have road connectivity, especially in the Northeast. Hence, not only are helicopters required for transportation of heavy equipment such as artillery guns, personnel vehicles, tanks etc, they are needed to transport troops, especially during times when there is a hostile situation. This is particularly critical in the northern and eastern borders with China, which, incidentally, has huge lift capabilities, both fixed wing and helicopters. While fixed wings can transport more troops and faster, they can only be used in places where aircraft can land. It is beyond that where helicopters are needed.
“The country faces a multitude of security challenges and we require a vertical-airlift capability for a very diversified terrain. The Chinook will give the Indian Air Force (IAF) a quantum leap to transport cargo to precarious high-altitude locations,” former Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa had said after the induction ceremony of four Chinook heavy-lift helicopters at Chandigarh’s Air Force Station 12 Wing on 25 March 2019.
The India specific CH- 47F (I), where CH stands for Cargo Helicopter, is an advanced multi-mission helicopter that is expected to provide the IAF with a much-needed strategic airlift capability across the full spectrum of combat and humanitarian missions.
The IAF currently has 15 Chinook helicopters on order; the first Chinooks arrived on February 2019 ahead of schedule at the Mundra port (via sea route) in Gujarat. At the ceremony, the first four of 15 Chinooks, ordered from Boeing in September 2015, were commissioned into the IAF’s 126 helicopter unit. The 126-helicopter unit presently has only two operational Mi-26 helicopters procured from the erstwhile Soviet Union in the late Eighties.
There are over 950 Chinooks in 20 countries. Some of the operators of Chinook include Canada, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Japan, Italy, Greece, Spain, South Korea, Australia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to Boeing India’s president, Salil Gupte, the Chinooks will prove to be a ‘significant force multiplier’ for the IAF. The acquisition of Chinooks will not only boost India’s defence preparedness along the eastern and western borders but will be instrumental in future Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) and support missions.
Typifying the Indian subcontinent with a proven capability to operate in the wide range of conditions, the Chinook, according to the US aerospace giant Boeing, has “unsurpassed ability to deliver heavy payloads to high altitudes, and is suitable for operations in the high Himalayas. The aircraft has been battle-tested in diverse, extreme conditions throughout the world, and has proven.”
With a 55-year legacy of technological advancements, the heavy lift, tandem rotor helicopter, contains a fully integrated digital cockpit management system, Common Aviation Architecture Cockpit (CAAC) and advanced cargo-handling capabilities. The CH-47F with new engines, upgraded airframe and new avionics, was developed by Boeing from the previous CH-47D.
It is capable of airlifting diverse military and non-military loads into remote locations and these helicopters will be deployed in the Northern and Eastern regions of India, according to the IAF. In July 2018, India had signed a USD3 billion contract with Boeing for the purchase of 22 Apache attack and 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, aiming at modernising its vintage helicopter fleet. The high-altitude performance capability of Chinook (over 18,000-feet) had made the aircraft a state-of-the-art asset in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan. The combat-proven Chinook was also deployed in Iraq and Vietnam.
The Chinook can accommodate a wide variety of internal payloads, including vehicles, artillery pieces, troops, war supplies and battlefield equipment. Apart from performing several transport missions, the helicopter is also deployed in medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), search and rescue (SAR), aircraft recovery, parachute drop and other operations.
The CH-47F, which is operated by a crew of three, including two pilots and flight engineer, accommodates 33 to 55 passengers, depending on cargo area configuration. This transport helicopter is powered by two new Honeywell T55-GA-714A turboshaft engines. According to a report in Military Today, “However, usually it carries less passengers. Alternatively, it can carry up to 24 litters, plus medical attendants. It can carry up to 10,900 kg of cargo internally and 12,700 kg externally on a sling load. The helicopter has three external cargo hooks and can carry various loads, such as light vehicles, artillery pieces or shelters.”
Boeing is now working on Block II variant of the Chinooks.
Another asset emboldening India’s tactical lift capability is the Russian Mil Mi-26, which is billed as the world’s most powerful helicopter and reportedly can lift a US Military CH-47 helicopter. The aircraft is a twin-engine Lotarev D-136 turboshaft with carrying capacity of 70 combat equipped troops or 20,000 kg payload. It has a max speed of 295 km/hr. Its range is 1,200 miles with a service ceiling of approximate 15,100 feet.
India inducted four Mi-26 helicopters into the IAF between 1986 and 1989. It was one of the earliest buyers of this copter. After the crash of one of the Halos at Jammu airport in 2010, India is left with three Mi-26 which actually require a massive overhaul. Several media reports stated the ministry of defence (MoD) in August 2019 had cleared overhaul of the three Russian Halo choppers in its inventory.
Measuring at 131 feet in length, Mi-26 is operated by a crew of five and is deployed on both military and civilian roles. The standard operating crew for the Mi-26 is made up of two pilots, a flight engineer/loadmaster, dedicated navigator, and a flight technician. Given its supply-delivery capabilities, it is used for humanitarian and relief operations. The Mi-26 is capable of hauling up to 20 tonnes of cargo inside its fuselage or on an external suspension. It is also used for search and rescue, transport, medical evacuation, deployment of special forces. There has also been a dedicated fire-fighting platform. The ambulance version is able to carry an operating room.
The heavy lift helicopters are exported to Algeria, China, Jordan, Peru, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Greece, Laos, Cyprus, South Korea, North Korea, Venezuela and Mexico among other countries.
The civilian variants are Mi-26T/Mi-26T2 which have been produced by Rostvertol, a Russian Helicopters-owned plant in Rostov-on-Don. The Mi-26T2 is an upgraded version of the Mi-26T equipped with a new BREO-26 avionics suite and glass cockpit with five multifunctional LCD displays, new digital autopilot, and NAVSTAR/GLONASS supported navigation system.
In December 2019, as per Russian Helicopters, “Russian Helicopters holding company and representatives of the Russian Ministry of Defense started joint state tests of Mi-26T2V heavy-lift military transport helicopter which are to last until the end of 2020.” The testing is a part of the programme to upgrade the Mi-26 helicopter. The prototype of Mi-26T2V helicopter was proposed by Rostvertol, one of the key production facilities of the company. Russian Helicopters is a subsidiary of state-owned holding company Rostec. The holding company was established in 2007. The head office is located in Moscow. The holding company comprises five helicopter plants, two design bureaus, enterprises for production and maintenance of components, aircraft repair plants and a service company providing after-sales support in Russia and abroad.
As part of Russian Helicopters’ programme on upgrading the heavy Mi-26 helicopter for the Russian Aerospace Forces, in 2018 Rostvertol produced a prototype of the modernised Mi-26T2V helicopter.
According to Russian Helicopters in 2019, Mi-26T2V successfully completed tests at the manufacturing facility. The holding did its best to accommodate all preferences of its customer. The modernisation significantly expanded the helicopter’s performance potential. In December 2019, Mi-26T2V was submitted for testing jointly with the customer, which is scheduled to last till the end of 2020. At present, about 20 flight tests have been completed.
The tests are planned to take place on four proving grounds. The mixed helicopter crew including representatives of the Russian Aerospace Forces, checks the principal performance characteristics of the helicopter and the operation of new equipment.
The modernised Mi-26T2V is a heavy-lift military and transport helicopter operable at any time of the day, it is equipped with modern avionics and its load capacity is 20 tonnes. The rotorcraft features cutting-edge integrated NPK90-2V avionics, which enables day and night piloting of the helicopter including automated cruising, arriving at a preset point, performing approach and final approach maneuvers, and returning to the main or an alternate aerodrome. The onboard defence system of Mi-26T2V protects the helicopter from being hit by air defence missile systems.
The company maintains that Mi-26T2V will be able to fly in “any region, including those with complex physical and geographical landscape and adverse climate conditions, it can be operated day and night on equipped and unequipped airways or even on off-airway routes and over featureless terrain, and resist to fire or information attacks by the enemy.” However, the number of crew members of the upgraded helicopter (five persons) remains unchanged.