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Army Aviation - Present Status and Modernisation

With the motto Suveg and Sudridh (Swift and Sure), the youngest corps of the Indian Army is growing in tactical importance, in the battlefield, as a force multiplier

Issue: Aero India 2021 Special By Lt General Naresh Chand (Retd)Photo(s): By Karthik Kumar / SP Guide Pubns, Boeing
Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH) by HAL

The present Army Aviation Corps (AAC) originates from the Air Observation Post (AOP) which was part of Indian Artillery. The role of AOP was to act as spotters to direct artillery fire on to the enemy targets which the ground based observers could not see. The introduction of helicopters to replace fixed wing aircraft revolutionised the AOP’s role. The AAC was raised as a separate Corps on November 1, 1986 and became the youngest Corps in the Indian Army. It now draws officers and other ranks from all ranks of the Army.

Multiple Roles. The main roles of the AAC on the modern battlefield are reconnaissance, observation, casualty evacuation, logistic support including carrying of underslung loads, combat search and rescue (CSAR) and Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR). It can also act as an airborne command post and communications relay station. It plays a vital role in counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations. Military helicopters are becoming a key element in the success of operations and with the fast developing technology, will gain more importance.

Light Utility Helicopters (LUH)

Current inventory. Presently AAC has about 185 helicopters (all types) in its inventory which include HAL’s Chetak (Aérospatiale SA 316 Alouette III), Cheetah (Aérospatiale SA 315Alouette II) and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv. The main inventory still consists of Chetak and Cheetah.

Cheetah. Cheetah is performing heroically on the Siachen Glacier since 1984. It is of French origin and now manufactured by HAL. It has been upgraded many times but is now in need of urgent replacement.

Cheetal. It is the re-engined version of the Cheetah helicopter to enhance high altitude operational capabilities and maintainability as well as to provide a mid-life upgrade for safe and reliable operations. The Artouste-IIIB engine of Cheetah was replaced with the modern fuel efficient TM333–2M2 engine with FADEC for better performance.

Chetak. It entered operational service in France during July 1971. The Alouette III was principally manufactured by Aérospatiale and was also built under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in India. HAL Chetak and has done great service to the Armed Forces as a utility and logistic support helicopter but now it needs urgent replacement.

Dhruv. Dhruv is a utility helicopter designed and developed by HAL. The development of HAL Dhruv was announced in November 1984 and it was subsequently designed with assistance from MBB in Germany. Dhruv entered service in 2002. It is designed to meet the requirement of both military and civil operators. Military versions are in production including transport, utility, reconnaissance and medical evacuation variants. HAL’s LUH and LCH, which are currently under development, are based on the Dhruv platform. As of October 2020, more than 300 HAL Dhruv have been produced for domestic and export markets.

Future LUH

Kamov Ka-226T. During 2012, the Army started the evaluation process for the selection of a LUH which included Kamov, Eurocopter and AgustaWestland. In December 2014, the Kamov Ka-226T was selected as the light utility helicopter to replace Chetak and Cheetah while the HAL Light Utility Helicopter was being developed simultaneously. It was also announced that the Kamov Ka-226T helicopter deal is the first major ‘Make in India’ project. The intergovernment agreement was inked in October 2016 and a production facility was to be established at Tumakuru, Bengaluru. Out of the 200 helicopters 135 were meant for the AAC. For the 200 Kamov Ka-226T helicopters production in India, Indo-Russian Helicopters Limited (IRHL) and Russian Helicopters Holding Company (part of Rostec State Corporation) had signed a roadmap during February 2020. However, the aspects of indigenous content of the helicopter deal has yet to be resolved thus the project is on hold since 2016.

In December 2014, the Kamov Ka-226T was selected as a light utility helicopter to replace the Chetak and Cheetah while the HAL Light Utility Helicopter was being developed simultaneously.

LUH. LUH is designed and developed as a replacement for Cheetah and Chetak helicopters by HAL. It is a new generation helicopter in the 3-tonne class incorporating the state of the art technology features like Glass cockpit with Multi-Function Displays (MFD) and powered by single Turbo Shaft engine with sufficient power margin to cater to the demanding high altitude missions. LUH will meet the emerging needs in this class of helicopters in the coming decades.The helicopter will be capable of flying at 220 kmph; service ceiling of 6.5 km and a range of 350 km with 500 kg payload.

Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH). The preliminary design of 10-tonne IMRH has been taken up by HAL to meet the requirement of the Indian Defence Services. Dedicated versions to meet the requirements of Airforce/Army as well as Navy are planned. The helicopter will be powered by twin engines and will feature blade folding option for ship deck operations. The intended roles of IMRH are to support air assault, air transport, combat logistics, combat search and rescue and casualty evacuation operations.

Boeing AH-64E Apache for India

Attack Helicopters

The Indian Air Force holds and operates attack Helicopters like the Mil Mi-25/Mi-35 but are under the operational control of the Army. AAC has plans to acquire its own armed helicopters. HAL is developing brief details of which are given below:

Lancer. HAL has developed a light attack helicopter ‘Lancer’ which is a costeffective air mobile area weapon system. The basic structure of the Lancer is derived from reliable and proven Cheetah helicopter. The helicopter has bullet proof front panels and crew seat. It is optimised for anti-insurgency operations, close air support, suppression of enemy fire, attack on vehicular convoys, destruction of enemy machine gun positions and anti-armour applications. It can carry two jettisonable combination guncum-rocket pods-one on each side, each pod carries one 12.7mm gun and three 70mm rockets and has a gun sight provided for accurate aiming and firing by the pilot.

Rudra. Rudra is the weaponised version of the Advanced Light Helicopter (Dhruv) designed and developed by HAL to meet the requirements of Indian Army and Indian Air Force. The multi role light combat helicopter (LCH) of 5.8-tonne class is powered by two Shakti Engines. It can perform multiple roles like Anti-tank, Scout, Fire support, Armed reconnaissance and surveillance, Escort and EW platform.

Apache AH-64E. During June 2018, six Apache AH-64E armed helicopters were contracted to be purchased from the US for induction into the AAC. Earlier in 2015, orders for purchase of 22 Apache for induction into the IAF were placed and the order for Apaches for the Army will be completed only after the delivery to the Air Force of 22 helicopters. The AAC has plans to procure 39 AH-64E helicopters which would be adequate for three AAC squadrons earmarked for the three Strike Corps. The Apache will be a major force multiplier for the Strike Formations adding tremendous fire power to their capabilities.

Some other future plans of the AAC are:-

Special operations squadron. A special operations squadron is being raised to provide dedicated integral aviation support to the Special Forces.

Heli-borne early-warning. Raising of a Heli-borne early warning flight has been planned for employing electronic warfare.

Light fixed-wing aircraft. The army is also planning to induct light fixed-wing aircraft in future for surveillance, command and control, and communication tasks.

In October 2019 President Ram Nath Kovind presented the President’s Colours to the Army Aviation Corps. With the motto Suveg and Sudridh (Swift and Sure), the youngest corps of the Indian Army is growing in its tactical importance in the battlefield as a force multiplier. However it will need to accelerate its pace of modernisation and offensive capabilities to become a battle winning factor. Chief of the Army Staff General MM Naravane announced recently that AAC will induct women pilots as well.