Army Aviation Corps
In 1986 the "Air Observation Post" units were transferred from the Air Force to the Army to form the Army Aviation branch. Using nine helicopter squadrons, Army Aviation has supported ground units in the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir and in Sri Lanka, as well as counterinsurgency operations in various parts of the country. Army Aviation has also participated in disaster relief. Apart from its nine squadrons of helicopters, the army had eight air observation squadrons and six antitank/transport squadrons. It relies on the air force for air support, lift capabilities, and air supply.
This fledgling arm of the Indian Army is headed by an Additional Director General of the rank of Major General at the Army headquarters. The pilots for Army Aviation are being drawn from all arms.
The ability to observe deep into the enemy area has always been one of the quintessential pre-requisites of warfare and 20th century saw a major revolution in warfare when the advent of airpower added a third dimension to the battlefield on land and in sea. Building from those days, Army Aviation Corps, the youngest Corps in the Indian Army has notched up an enviable record of successes, awards and decorations. It is an amalgamation of diverse influence and traditions of the 'Aviation' and the 'Army'. The motto 'Suveg Va Sudrid' clearly narrates the daily ongoing epic of Army Aviation's ceaseless operational involvement across diverse terrains, in contrasting weather and climatic conditions in a variety of difficult situations. Nothing describes the omnipotence of Aviation's reach and presence better than it's ubiquitous round the clock application in the present day context. To add to this are the inborn demands of the environment as Aviation requires enormous reserves of physical, mental and moral stamina. The men and machines, of the Army Aviation Corps, have done yeoman service during the two major wars and innumerable missions of mercy in peace time for which they have earned accolades far out of proportion to their small numbers.
As of 2005 the new Army Aviation Plan envisioned setting up aviation brigades at Corps and Command Headquarters and making strike formations leaner with their own attack, surveillance and special operations helicopters. The Aviation Corp planned to induct a new generation of helicopters, special operations squadrons, mounting of electronic and surveillance systems on choppers and induction of health and usage monitoring choppers.
The Army plans to become the world's largest operator [indeed, almost only operator] of the indigenous Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter with proposed induction of 125 ALHs in both the transport and weapons system integrated versions. The 15-year Army Aviation Plan envisioned acquisition of an attack helicopter version of the ALH, equipped with guns, rockets, anti-tank guided missiles and air-to-air missiles. By the end of the current 10th army plan, it was envisaged to arm Army aviation formations with six utility helicopter squadrons of ALH and six squadrons of 10 tonne-class.
The IAF and Indian Army are at some degree of odds over the Army's plans to dramatically increase the number of air assets it operates. The large RFP for 317 helicopters for the Army and also later added IAF is back to 197, with 12 Heavy Lift and 12 VIP helicopters also in the pipe line. As of 2007 the Army Aviation Corps modernisation plans were:
- Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopters. These helicopters will replace the existing fleet of Cheetah / Chetak helicopters. While some helicopters will be procured as 'Buy' category, others will be 'Designed and Developed' by HAL as 'Make' category. RFP for the former has been issued and the procurement was likely to commence soon.
- Utility Helicopters. Three squadrons of indigenously developed state-of-the-art Advanced Light Helicopters(ALH) are already in service (one under raising). Additional squadrons are planned and will form an important and integral part of Field Formation Commander's battle.
- Armed Helicopters. ALH (weapon system Integrated) are being developed by HAL. Integration of weapon systems on the ALH is already under way including test firing of weapons. The helicopter was to be ready for first flight by 2009.
- Tactical Battle Support Helicopter. This is being developed as a tri-services project by HAL. The helicopter will be called Indian Multi Role Helicopter. By 2007 the procurement process had already has been "set into motion" for Battle Support helicopters. These machines should be capable of carrying 10 - 12 men into the battlefield.
- Spl Ops Sqn. A Spl Ops Squadron is being raised to provide dedicated integral aviation support to the Special Forces.
- Heliborne EW Flt. Raising of a HB EW flight has been planned to optimally exploit the third dimension to enhance the reach and potency of Electronic Warfare effort.
- Light Fixed Wing Aircraft. The Army is also planning to induct light fixed wing aircraft in future for surveillance and communication tasks.
By 2012 the Army was set to replace its ageing fleet of helicopters with induction of new versions of light and combat choppers. The induction of 197 light observation helicopters is in the final stages. Meanwhile, army will induct 114 Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) suited for deployment along the mountainous terrain. LCH which is being designed and manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) carried out its maiden flight in March 2010. The proposal of inducting tactical battle support helicopters, also known as Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH) of 10-20 tonne class was also in the pipeline. At the end of 2011 the Army had a fleet of over 250 helicopters.
The armed forces are looking to induct as many as 900 helicopters in the coming decade through 2025, including 384 light-utility and observation, 90 naval multi-role, 65 light combat, 22 heavy-duty attack, 139 medium-lift and 15 heavy-lift, among others.
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