(This was originally posted in The Tribune by Vijay Mohan)
The Indian Army is asking the private industry to design and develop a portable helipad that can meet its field requirements across a vast spectrum of operations in diverse geographical and climatic conditions.
A portable helipad is a makeshift structure comprising sub-units that can be easily transported, assembled and disassembled to provide a temporary place for helicopters to land and take-off. They are cost-effective and can be used in places that do not require the construction of a permanent helipad or when time is a critical factor. Besides military operations, portable helicopters have immense scope for deployment during disaster relief operations and also for internal security duties.
In the Army’s scheme of things, heliborne operations is a critical dimension for success by ensuring surprise, rapid troop deployment, offensive air support, airborne surveillance, tactical flexibility and logistic support. The construction of helipads in an operationally constrained time frame in the desert, semi-desert, mountainous and coastal areas, therefore, becomes an important task for the Army’s combat engineers.
The Army wants portable helicopters that can accommodate all types of helicopters in the Indian inventory, including the Chinook and Apache, An initial requirement of 50 portable helipads measuring 25×25 meters has been projected and larger sizes that could range up to 100×100 meters would be considered at a later stage.
The parameters also call for at least 50 per cent of the helipad’s components, by value, to be sourced indigenously.
The technical requirements laid down by the Army for such helipads include a rugged design with modular components and sub-units that are corrosion resistant, have the high tensile strength to withstand rotor downwash and allow increase or reduction in size by adding or removing panels.
A team of 10 personnel should be able to construct one portable helipad after surface preparation within 90 minutes and the entire equipment, including sub-units and assembly tools, should be transportable in one truck
Portable helipads are not new and have been in use in several parts of the world for a long time for the military as well as civilian purposes. These have also been marketed by some Indian firms.
For many years, the Army has been improvising helipads in remote areas by using sandbags, perforated metal sheets, plywood sheets, jerry cans and other field equipment used by the engineers for constructing tracks. Several such helipads had come up in the northern as well as north-eastern sectors, including the Siachen, in the late 1980s to facilitate air maintenance of forward posts.