Whipping Up a Storm

IAF will finally get 22 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 Boeing CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters

Atul Chandra

In another boost to the rotary wing capability of the Indian military, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has received approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for the purchase of 22 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 Boeing CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters. Options also exist for an additional 11 Apaches and seven Chinooks, which could be exercised at a later date. The CCS approval came just over a year after the procurement was cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) in August, last year, for the deal which is valued at an estimated Rs 14,500 crore (USD 2.2 billion).

Boeing Apache at Mesa, Arizona
Boeing Apache at Mesa, Arizona

The Apache proposal for India includes both a Direct Commercial Sale (DCS) component and a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) component. The FMS contract for the Apache includes munitions, training, aircraft certification, and components including engines, Electro-Optic (EO sensors) and the Fire Control Radar (option). The DCS portion of the contract primarily consists of the aircraft (less engines/sensors), logistic support, spares and services. The US government will offer a sustainment package with spares as requested in the Request for Proposal (RFP). While a formal contract is expected to be signed shortly, India will become the fourth international customer for the AH-64E Block III Apache, which is the latest version, with the US Army taking its first delivery in November 2011. Induction of the state-of-the-art and potent Apache will afford the IAF with enhanced dominant force projection capabilities.

The first of the Apache and Chinook helicopters will arrive in India 2018-2019 and is a sign of the marked preference of the IAF for US-made defence equipment apart from its core combat aircraft fleet. The Apache and Chinook will join Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster IIIs and Lockheed Martin C-130 J ‘Super Hercules’ special mission transports in the IAF fleet. The US-made attack helicopter will augment and later replace the IAF fleet of Soviet era Mil Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, which are more than three and two decades old respectively. The Chinook will replace the iconic Mil Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter, less than a handful of which are still operational. The configuration of the heavy-lift helicopter is expected to be very similar to the US army CH-47Fs but with different radios. As per the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notification in 2010 on the proposed sale of the Apache to India, 12 out of 22 helicopters will be fitted with the highly regarded ‘Longbow’ FCR and all will be fitted with the Target Acquisition Designation Sight (TADS) and Pilot Night Vision Sensors (PNVS). The munitions to be acquired as per the notification were 812 AGM-114L-3 HELLFIRE LONGBOW missiles, 542 AGM-114R-3 HELLFIRE II missiles and 245 STINGER Block I-92H missiles. The helicopters come with an Orbital LW30mm M230 Chain gun automatic cannon which has a rate of fire of 625 rounds per minute. For more than a decade now, the sophisticated Longbow FCR has provided Apache air crews with target detection, location, classification and prioritisation capability. The radar can discriminate between stationary targets and their background, a capability that many have tried to replicate without success. The radar allows automatic and multi-target engagement capability in any weather and according to company sources, enhances the lethality of the Apace four fold and survivability seven fold, over the earlier A model Apache. Longbow Apache and FCR first saw combat in the initial stages of operation Iraqi Freedom.

The IAF AH-64E Block III Apaches are expected to feature a 99 per cent commonality with helicopter used by the US Army only incorporating minor changes such as different radios and datalinks and dual mode landing lights for Night Vision Goggle (NVG) operation. Usage of composites on the Block III is far greater than earlier versions of the Apache by up to 30 per cent and the main rotor blades and spars, equipment fairings and tail stabiliser are entirely of composite construction. The Block III has a full open system architecture with ‘plug and play’ capability and the avionics bays have also been enlarged. The cockpit has been reconfigured for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). Low light flying capability with Night Vision Goggles (NVG) has been enhanced with specially configured lights fitted outside the aircraft. The Block III is powered by twin T700-GE-701D engines, fitted with an enhanced digital engine control unit and comes with an upgraded transmission system to cater for the increase in power to 3,400 shp. The Block III has the ability able to hover at 6,000 feet (at 35 degrees centigrade) when carrying a 1,500 kg payload as compared to earlier variant which could only hover at a height of 4,000 feet and that too with lower payload. The aircraft that flew to India for the trials was a modified Block II helicopter with a significant amount of Block III parts. It had all the performance upgrades of the Block III but not the avionics fit. The Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) cost for 15 Heavy Lift Helicopters and 22 attack helicopters was Rs 2,468.41 crores and Rs 3,094.98 crores respectively, according to a MoD statement from 2012.

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