(This News Article Is Originally Posted on The Hindu by Dinakar Peri)
While the Army’s repeated attempts to replace its ageing fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters continue, there has been a quantum jump in the employment of helicopters of the Army Aviation in the last one year along the Northern borders during the ongoing standoff, according to defence sources.
“The recent induction of 3rd generation night navigation goggles provides our helicopters with the requisite capability to operate almost during the entire moon phase. Adding to this capability, the recent induction of a fresh lot of ammunition for the fleet of Rudra, a weaponized variant of Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH), also ensured a quantum jump in terms of the capability of the Army Aviation helicopters,” one defence source said. “The growth of Army Aviation has been exponential in the past one year or so.”
During the ongoing standoff and recent tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the Army Aviation assets were deployed all along as a proactive stance giving our troops on the ground the much-needed surveillance support and confidence in terms of available fire support, the source said.
The Army has 90 ALH and 75 Rudra helicopters in service which are indigenously designed and developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Very soon, the Army Aviation is also likely to induct a surveillance downlink system, anti-aircraft missiles, countermeasures against missile systems, new generation surveillance pods among others which will enhance the existing role to the manifold, the source stated.
The Army Aviation is also gearing up for some major inductions in the next couple of years including the AH-64 Apache, considered as the world’s best attack helicopter. These helicopters will be delivered as early as 2023 and will be operational within a year, the source said adding, “This massive game changer will ensure that the western borders are well secured from our Western adversaries.”
The Army will soon also receive the indigenous Light Combat helicopter (LCH) from HAL. HAL has received the letter of intent for five IAF and five Army LCH for delivery pending contract finalisation of 15 limited series production variants, a HAL source said. “In the current year, we are producing four LCH for Army and two for IAF.”
In addition, to augment its surveillance capabilities along the LAC, the Army has recently leased four Heron-TP Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) from Israel Aircraft Industries. Two UAVs would be delivered by August and remaining two by year end, two defence sources confirmed.
Heron-TP is an advanced version of the Heron’s in service with the forces. It is satellite communication-enabled and can fly up to an altitude of 45,000 feet and has an endurance of over 30 hours.
However, about 75% of the Army’s fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which are its mainstay, is over 30 years old and some of them are about 50 years old. The Ka-226T utility helicopter deal with Russia along with the indigenous Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) is meant to replace them has been held for several years over the percentage of indigenisation.
However, the Army is now hoping for some progress in the coming few weeks on the long-delayed deal, another source said adding, it is making a pitch to procure a small number of Ka-226T helicopters.
With the visit of Mr. Putin in the works for year end for the annual summit, there are expectations that this deal along with other held up proposals like the AK-203 assault rifle deal will get a push, a third source said.
At present, the Army is holding 160 of the 246 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters with a serviceability rate of 60%. Of these, about 75% are over 30 years old and some about 50 years. In addition, around 20 helicopters are with HAL for an overhaul for around a year at any point in time. As reported by The Hindu earlier, the technical life of these helicopters will start finishing from 2023 onwards which will only further exacerbate the deficiencies.
The Army variant of the LUH received its Initial Operational Clearance during Aero India in February and officials said the Army will receive the first batch of six LUHs by December 2022.