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Air Force Helicopters

The IAF's helicopter fleet has steadily increased in numbers over the past twenty years, blossoming from a handfull of US types in the '60s to over 500 French, Indian and Soviet built types. as of 2015 the armed forces were 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.

The pride of the force was, undoubtedly, the Mi-26 heavy lift helicopter which has been operated by No. 126 H.U. with outstanding results in the mountains of Northern India. The bulk of rotorcraft are Mi-17s and Mi-8s, well over one hundred of these types serving in Helicopter Units throughout the country, playing a vital logistic support role. Mi-8s are operated for commando assault tasks, for ferrying supplies and personnel to remote mountain helipads and jungle clearings, carrying out SAR (Search and Research Operations) and logistic support tasks in the island territories, employed with the Indian permanent station in the Antarctica and so on.

The helicopter fleet consisted of HAL manufactured Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, the indigenous Dhruv ALH, Mi-8, Mi-17 and heavy lift Mi-26 helicopters. Air Force helicopters were also being used to provide air maintenance and communication service in support of the Indian Army in the inhospitable and difficult terrain of the North-East and the highest battlefield in the world, the Siachen Glacier. In addition, IAF helicopters provide communication, search, rescue and relief services to civil agencies. Specially modified Mi-8 helicopters have operated in the Antarctic with the Indian permanent Research Base there. Apart from these traditional roles; the IAF has attack helicopters like Mi-25 and Mi-35 helicopters. In 2004, the IAF acquired 10 additional Mi-17IV helicopters in addition to the existing 75.

The smaller Alouette III, renamed Chetak, is as ubiquitous, being employed for casevac(Casualty Evacuation), communi- cations and liaison duties with the IAF having received over 150 examples of this versatile rotorcraft. In 1986 the Government of India formally constituted the Army's Aviation Corps and most Chetak and Cheetahs operating in AOP Squadrons were transferred from the Air Force on 1st November 1986. The Air Force continues to fly armed Chetaks in the anti-tank role as well as for CASEVAC and general duties while the lighter Cheetah is operated by (FAC) flights.

As of 2005, the HAL Chetak was scheduled to be replaced by the Dhruv ALH although as an alternative, the Chetak could be re-engined with the Turbomeca TM 333-2B engine. The Chetak was originally powered by Turbomeca's Artouste IIIB engine. The first test flight of the upgraded Chetak, dubbed "Chetan", was carried out in February 2005. According to Turbomeca, a minimum of 200 Chetak helicopters could be upgraded. A similar option exists to re-engine the HAL Cheetah to the Cheetal variant using the TM 333-2B engine as well. Over 250 Cheetahs were built under license at HAL until the late 1980s for the IAF.

Although a diminishing asset with the IAF, these helicopters serve in large numbers with the Army Aviation Corps (AAC). Both Army and IAF Cheetahs, supporting Army outposts, operate at altitudes of 24,000+ feet. An option remains to re-engine the HAL Cheetah with the Turbomeca TM 333-2B2 engine.


The MI-8 also known as the “PRATAP” phasing out ceremony was held 17 December 2017 at the Air Force Station, Yelahanka in Bengaluru. The ceremony was attended by veterans headed by Air Chief Marshall (Retd) Fali Homi Major PVSM, AVSM, SC, VM, ADC. He flew the last MI-8 mission along with CO 112HU. Air Marashal SRK Nair PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command, IAF was the chief guest on the occasion. Air Marshal Jasjit Singh Kler, VM, Commandant NDA, the senior most MI-8 helicopter was also present on the occasion.

112HU is the alma mater of HeliLift. The unit has the record of passing out 119 pilot courses, 89 Flt Eng courses and 57 Flt gunner courses. MI-8 also called PRATAP has been the backbone of medium lift combat capability of Indian Air Force and was ideal platform for graduation of MLH aircrew. The MI-8 helicopter arrived in India in the year 1971 at Bombay and were formally inducted in the Indian Air Force helicopter inventory in the year 1972. Between 1971 and 1988, Indian Air Force inducted 107 MI-8 helicopters, rechristened as the “PRATAP”. MI-8’s served for 45 years after their induction and is currently being phased out.

The MI-8, PRATAP was inducted in ten operational helicopter units and it operated in several major IAF operations including Operation Meghdoot in the Siachen Glacier and Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. The helicopter also operated extensively in Humanitarian and Disaster Relief operations across the length and breadth of the country. The MI-8 has also been associated with VIP/VVIP flying for over decades. MI-8 through its glorious service career, did not just establish itself as a mainstay of the helicopter operations but also left an indelible mark on the future by providing the Indian Air Force with a lineage of professional helicopter aircrew. 112 Helicopter Unit based here at the Air Force Station, Yelahanka, is the last unit to operate this formidable platform.


In August 1999, the IAF which is responsible for carrying out VVIP communication task, proposed the replacement of Mi-8 VIP helicopters due to severe operational constraints, such as, inability of Mi-8 to operate at night and in adverse weather, inability to operate safely at places in elevation beyond 2000 meters etc. IAF felt the need for the replacement of Mi-8 helicopters as they were completing their total technical life.

On the report in February 2013 of arrests of theFinmeccanica Chief, Mr. G Orsi, who was earlier Chief Executive of M/s Agusta Westland and Mr. Bruno Spagnolini, Chief Executive of Agusta Westland Spa, in reference to financial malpractices pertaining to procurement of 12 VVIP / VIP helicopters for Indian Air Force (IAF), the Ministry of Defence requested the Embassy of India in Rome on 13th February, 2013 to send factual report pertaining to arrests of the Finmeccanica Chief and Chief Executive of Agusta Westland Spa, nature of charges framed and other relevant details, which in turn, took up the matter with the Judge for the preliminary investigation in Busto Arsizio. The Embassy on February 15, 2013 forwarded the response of the Judge which states that‘the investigations are at a preliminary stage during which, as per Article 329 of the Code of Penal Procedure, all information are covered by secrecy'. It was also added in the response of the Judge that when the 'Secrecy' obligations are over, his Office would be glad to examine a new request from India.

The scandal has been referred to as the Chopper scam, or Choppergate by elements of the media and popular press. Several Indian politicians and military officials have been accused of accepting bribes from AgustaWestland in order to win the Rs.36 billion (US$540 million) Indian contract for the supply of 12 AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters; these helicopters are intended to perform VVIP duties for the President of India and other important state officials. Ahmed Patel political secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi is alleged by Italian prosecutors to have received kickbacks from the deal. A note dating back to 15 March 2008 presented in the Italian court also indicates that Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi was the driving force behind the VIP chopper purchase. On 25 March 2013, India's Defence Minister A.K. Antony confirmed corruption allegations by stating : "Yes, corruption has taken place in the helicopter deal and bribes have been taken. The CBI is pursuing the case very vigorously".

On 01 January 2014 India cancelled the $770 million helicopter deal with Italian defense group Finmeccanica's AgustaWestland International Limited (AWIL) unit while agreeing to take the matter to arbitration. The contract signed on 08 February 2010 was for the supply of 12 AW101 helicopters for the use of VVIPs. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the decision had been taken on grounds of "breach of the Pre-Contract Integrity Pact (PCIP) and the agreement by AWIL... Based on the opinion received earlier from the Attorney General of India, it has been the view of the Government that integrity-related issues are not subject to arbitration.... However, AWIL has since pressed for arbitration and appointed an arbitrator from its side. In view of this, MoD sought afresh the opinion of the Attorney General. With a view to safeguard the interests of the Government, MoD has nominated Hon’ble Mr Justice B P Jeevan Reddy as its arbitrator".


A batch of 40 Mi-17 IVs was the IAF's helicopter fleet. In October 2007 Defense News reported that negotiations were finalized during a defense ministers' meeting meeting in Russia, and contracts will be signed with Rosoboronexport within the next 2 months. The $310 million worth of upgrades would be carried out on 46 Mi-8, 78 Mi-17 and 48 Mi-171V helicopters to add instrument landing system radars, very high-frequency omni-directional range radars, an advanced weather radar and a digital moving map display.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) wanted to purchase 80 Mi-17 multi-utility helicopters to augment its capability for humanitarian operations, Indo-Asian News Service reported. India would buy 80 medium-lift Mi-17 helicopters from Russia for Rs 6,500 crore. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved the proposal in April 2008. The IAF, now having 50 Mi-17s, began feeling the need for more helicopters after a series of natural disasters from the December 26, 2004 tsunami, the heavy snowfall in India-controlled Kashmir to October 2005 earthquake. The helicopters also carried out rescuer work in devastating floods in various parts of the country. The Mi-17s, first developed in the mid-1980s, are deployed for tasks like ferrying troops, airdropping supplies, evacuating casualties, search and rescue, and ferrying VIPs. They can carry 15 fully equipped troops or five tons of equipment. Some have also been equipped with 57 mm rocket pods to give them attack capability.

In October 2006, the Indo-Asian News Service reported that the Indian Air Force will buy 80 medium lift multi-role Mi-17 1V helicopters from Russia for delivery in 2007-2008. The Mi-17v5 differs from the Mi-171V in having a protruding 'dolphin' nose rather than the glassed-in round noses other Indian Mi-17s possess and more powerful 2,200hp TV3-117VM engines. The new acquisitions will replace obsolete Mi-8s. In June 2008 Russia's state-run Rosoboroexport hiked the price tag for the Mi-171Vs from the $650 million agreed in March 2007, to over a billion dollars.

Russia will deliver the first of the 80 Mi-171 transport helicopters to India under a recent contract by the end of 2009. The Mi-171 is an export version of the Mi-8 Hip helicopter. The contract was signed in December 2008. Some sources estimate the new deal was worth around $662 million. India already had 150 Russian-made Mi-8 and Mi-17 medium-lift helicopters deployed in at least 12 squadrons. Currently in production at two factories in Kazan and Ulan-Ude, the Mi-171 features more powerful turboshaft engines and can transport up to 37 passengers.

On 24 December 2012, India and Russia sealed defense deals worth billions of dollars during a visit by the Russian president, in a move which reaffirms the long-standing strategic alliance between the two countries. Calling Russia a key partner in the effort to modernize India's armed forces, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the deal to buy 71 Mi-17V-5 military helicopters worth $1.3 billion. An order to procure 59 Mi-17 v5 MLH was agreed to in February 2010, which was subsequently increased to 71. The current contract was in context of the order.

The contract for 71 more Russian medium-lift and weaponized Mi-17V5 helicopters for around $1 billion, 59 for IAF and 12 for BSF, is going ahead. This came after deliveries of the first 80 Mi-17V5s to IAF, under a $1.34-billion deal inked in 2008, began September 2011.

Defence Minister Shri AK Antony said that India had always strived for peace, trust and cooperation. Addressing a gathering 17 February 2012 after inducting the advanced Mi-17 V5 helicopter into the IAF, Shri Antony, however, said that the developments around us necessitated the building of our defence capability.

Pointing out that the Mi-17 V5 is the best helicopter in its class, the Defence Minister assured that the Government stands committed to provide the latest and best possible equipments to our armed forces. Shri Antony underlined the role of Russia as a dependable partner in the defence sector. Calling upon the IAF personnel to keep pace with the latest technological advancements, the Minister said that adequate training should be provided to absorb the induction of complex systems into the forces. “Today is a special day for the Indian Air Force, as it inducts Mi-17 V 5 helicopter into its helicopter fleet. The multi-purpose Mi-17 V 5 helicopters will add to the flexibility and operational muscle, as well as capabilities of the Indian Air Force. It will help the IAF in meeting its growing mandate."

The helicopter fleet of the IAF has been rendering useful service to the nation by operating in remote, inaccessible and inhospitable parts of our country. The role played by these helicopters in providing humanitarian assistance and carrying out relief and rescue efforts in the wake of natural disasters, or accidents has received widespread appreciation. They are operating at the heights of Siachen glacier and have also proved their professionalism in UN missions.

Combat Helicopters

In May 1984, No. 125 Helicopter Unit was formed with the formidable Mi-25 gunship helicopter, used to much effect in Sri Lanka. The upgraded Mi 35 has followed in April 1990, with No. 104 HU being reequipped with the type. Future requirements for armed helicopters are planned to be met by the Light Combat Helicopter derivative of the indigenous Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

The indigenous development of the Army's Light Combat Helicopter came as the IAF floated international tenders for the purchase of 22 advanced helicopter gunships. Besides Eurocopter, part of the defence and aviation consortium EADS, the other major contenders for this competition are Boeing's AH-64D, Augusta Westland's AW-129 Mangustu and Russia's MI-28N NightHunters.

India released the Request for Proposals (RFP) in May 2008 for 22 combat helicopters to augment its fleet of around 30 Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters. India wanted to complete the procurement of the 22 attack helicopters before May 2011. India received proposals from the Russian Kamov's Ka-50 and Mil's Mi-28, Italian-British AgustaWestland AW129 and French Eurocopter Tiger. Eurocopter offered its Tiger attack helicopter. But in October 2008 Bell and Boeing opted out of the Indian Air Force's tenders for attack helicopters.

The Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) cost for 22 Attack Helicopters is Rs.3094.98 Crores. However, final cost of the Contracts would depend upon outcome of the Contract negotiation with the L1 Vendor. Government of India signed contract with M/s Boeing USA and Letter of Agreement (LOA) with US Government on 28th September, 2015 for purchase of Apache Attack Helicopters. Defence equipment are imported as per the operational requirements of the Armed Forces. However, actual cash outgo depends on delivery of equipment / reaching of laid down milestones before release of funds.

On 03 September 2019 the IAF formally inducted the AH-64E Apache Attack Helicopter into its inventory at Air Force Station Pathankot. Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa PVSM AVSM YSM VM ADC, Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of the Air Staff was the Chief guest at the event. IAF signed a contract with ‘The Boeing Company’ and US Government for 22 Apache Attack Helicopters. The first eight helicopters have been delivered on schedule and the last batch of helicopters is to be delivered by March 2020. These helicopters will be deployed in the Western regions of India.

Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa during the induction ceremony said “Apache attack helicopters are being purchased to replace the Mi-35 fleet. Alongside the capability to shoot fire and forget anti tank guided missiles, air to air missiles, rockets and other ammunitions, it also has modern EW capabilities to provide versatility to helicopter in a network centric aerial warfare. Apaches have been an integral part of numerous historic campaigns worldwide. These aircraft have been modified specifically to suit the exacting standards demanded by IAF. I am happy to note that the delivery schedule is on time with eight helicopters already being delivered.”

The helicopter is capable of delivering variety of weapons which include air to ground Hellfire missiles, 70 mm Hydra rockets and air to air Stinger missiles. Apache also carries one 30 mm chain gun with 1200 rounds as part of area weapon sub system. To add to the lethality of the helicopter, it carries fire control radar, which has a 360° coverage and nose mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems.

The addition of Apache Attack Helicopter is a significant step towards modernisation of Indian Air Force helicopter fleet. This procurement will enhance the capability of IAF in providing integrated combat aviation cover to the army strike corps. These tandem seating helicopters are day/night, all weather capable and have high agility and survivability against battle damage. These are easily maintainable even in field conditions and are capable of prolonged operations in tropical and desert regions.

Heavy-Lift Helicopters

Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Fali Homi Major told India Strategic defence magazine in February 2008 that the Indian Air Force (IAF) was set to acquire 24 new attack helicopters and 12 heavy lift helicopters to replace and augment its Soviet-era fleets. He stated that a global Request for Proposals (RFP) for 24 state-of-the-art attack helicopters was around the corner. So was an RFP for 12 heavy lift helicopters to replace the old 20-ton Mi-26 helicopters. IAF's fleet of half-a-dozen Mi-26 heavy lift helicopters needs urgent replacement while the Mi 35 attack helicopters are being upgraded in systems to extend their useful life for some more time. Boeing Vice President Chris Chadwick then said that the company was offering both the Apache Block III as well as Chinook CH 47 heavy lift in the 20-ton category.

On 05 December 2012 the Indian Defense Ministry said India preferred Boeing Chinook over Russian Mi-26 helicopters in a tender on the delivery of 15 heavy-lift helicopters to the Indian Air Force. Both the Russian upgraded Mi-26T2 Halo and the Boeing Chinook CH-47F had qualified in the technical trials and their financial bids, covering the initial acquisition cost as well as the lifecycle costs. The Indian media earlier cited cost effectiveness and after-sales service as main factors that tilted the scales in favor of the US aircraft. “In the proposal initiated by Indian Air Force (IAF) for procurement of 15 Heavy Lift Helicopters, Boeing with Chinook Helicopter has emerged as the L1 Vendor,” the ministry said in a statement. “The Field Evaluation Trials for these Helicopters conducted by the Indian Air Force have found them to be compliant with all the stated Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQRs),” the statement said.

The Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) cost for 15 Heavy Lift Helicopters is Rs.2468.41 Crores . However, final cost of the Contracts would depend upon outcome of the Contract negotiation with the L1 Vendor. A contract with M/s Boeing, USA was signed on 28 September 2015 for purchase of Chinook heavy lift helicopters. Defence equipment are imported as per the operational requirements of the Armed Forces. However, actual cash outgo depends on delivery of equipment / reaching of laid down milestones before release of funds. India procures defence equipment under capital acquisition from various countries, the major sources being Russia, USA, Israel and France. During the last three years i.e. 2012-13 to 2014-15 contracts and Letter of Agreement (LOA) worth Rs. 7285.72 crores have been signed with vendors from USA and the US Government.

American defence major Boeing and Dynamatic Technologies have announced delivery of another set of aft pylon and cargo ramp components for Boeing's H-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter. Indian firm Dynamatic Technologies manufactures critical components for H-47 Chinook, one of the world's most advanced multi-mission, heavy-lift transport helicopters. "This delivery marks a significant milestone in the success of the Make in India programme and our commitment towards building indigenous manufacturing capabilities," Pratyush Kumar, president of Boeing India said in a statement on August 28, 2018.

India was officially given hold of the first Chinook helicopters at Boeing’s facility to US Harsh Shringla in the presence of Indian ambassador. The ceremony took place at Boeing’s facility in Philadelphia on 02 February 2018. On 25 March 2019, the IAF formally inducted the CH 47 F(I)- Chinook heavy lift helicopters into its inventory at Air Force Station Chandigarh. Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa PVSM AVSM YSM VM ADC, Chief of the Air Staff was the Chief guest and the event was attended by various dignitaries.

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Page last modified: 24-02-2020 18:12:10 ZULU