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Army Aviation Corps History

November 1, 1986 was an auspicious day in the history of Indian Army when its long quest for an Army Aviation Corps became a reality. The corps, immediately after its raising, saw action in Sri Lanka during operation Pawan. Army Aviation Corps worked relentlessly during this operation for speedy move of troops and stores and helped in aerial reconnaissance and casualty evacuation.

Army Aviation Corps has come a long way since the days of the Royal Artillery Flying Clubs, Flying Austers. With better technology, improved avionics and new developments in aviation around the world, Army Aviation Corps has been transforming into an enviable force. During operation Parakram, it was bubbling with enthusiasm as it evacuated a number of casualties in the blistering heat and freezing climatic conditions of the Thar desert.

The advent of airpower in the 20th century revolutionised warfare by adding a third dimension to the battlefield on land and in sea. The advancement in new and improved weapon systems gave rise to associated equipment, organisation and tactics. The increased ranges and lethality of field artillery weapons needed better land-based observation posts manned by trained artillery officers. Thus came into being the Air Observation Posts in which artillery officers flew small and highly manoeuvrable aircraft and began directing long-range medium artillery to fire accurately at targets beyond the observation limit of ground-based artillery observers.

Air Observation Post Flights (Air OP-Flights) were Air Force units manned and maintained by Air Force personnel except for pilots who were artillery officers. The primary role of these Air OP flights was to act as 'Eyes of Artillery' and engage targets in depth which were not visible to ground observers.

The Air OP organisation, over the years, evolved from a humble Auster aircraft force to a large all-helicopter Army aviation fleet. The Army Aviation men and machines 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. The inventory boasts of two Maha Vir Chakra, one Uttam Yudh Seva Medal, 16 Vir Chakra, three Ati Vishisht Seva Medals, 11 Shaurya Chakra, five Yudh Seva Medals, one Bar to Sena Medal, 54 Sena Medals, eight Vayu Sena Medals, 19 Vishisht Seva Medals, 45 Mention-in-Despatches, 154 Chief of Army Staff Commendation Cards and a number of Chief of Air Staff Commendation Cards.

In more recent times, conflicts in various parts of the world, Vietnam and Gulf War in particular, made it clear that integral aviation resources would provide the field force commander real time battlefield flexibility and enhancement in combat power. The third dimension would be within the planning ambit of the field commander. The operational diversities of the Indian Army, coupled with variety of terrain, accelerated the acceptance of the concept of Army Aviation Corps as a lethal force-multiplier.

Indian Army's extensive deployment in mountainous and high altitude terrain, over the crest line observation for reconnaissance by field commanders, direction of artillery fire and speedy move of commanders to the forward posts which are difficult to access, make availability of helicopters a necessity. Speedy casualty evacuation from inaccessible areas, both in war and peace conditions, needed rotary wing effort close by and on call. Hence, a need was felt for a dedicated aviation effort for every Infantry/Mountain Division.

The requirement for an integral Army Aviation Corps had actually been made in February 1963 when the JRD Tata Committee deliberated on the expansion and rationalisation of the air arms of India. The case was submitted to the Government in April 1968, the concept of Army Aviation undergoing a paradigm change after induction of helicopters and large scale mechanisation, combining various arms including armour, mechanised infantry, self propelled artillery and attack helicopters, all requiring integrated command for meshing elements into a cohesive fighting force.

Gradually after Indo-Pak war in 1971, Indian Army started becoming more and more mechanised for warfare in plains and desert terrain. Integration of the third dimension with mechanised forces was the order of the day, world over. Mobile warfare enforced the need for a third dimensional weapon platform like helicopter. Hence, the Army Aviation inducted officers from other combat arms in addition to Artillery officers to form a composite third dimensional force for an integrated battle. Attack helicopters have now become part of the mechanised warfare for operating closely with the ground formations in the thick of a battle.

The logistic support for far-flung Army posts in inaccessible high altitude terrain, where air-dropping by heavy fixed-wing aircraft previously was expensive and wasteful, opened the need for one to two tonne capacity utility helicopters which could lift loads from forward logistic areas at road-heads or helipads accessible to heavy utility helicopters.

The conversion of the erstwhile Air OP units with the Air Force into a total olive green aviation force opened new vistas of tactical involvement and battle utilisation. Many other roles got added to the primary task of providing observation for artillery fire, making the Army Aviation a very versatile and formidable force. The Army Aviation is now poised to act as an effective combat arm with the planned acquisition of attack helicopters, utility helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters fitted with current technology surveillance equipment.

The expansion of the Indian Army considerably increased the utilisation spectrum of small helicopters. In 1984, the Cheetah fleet of the Indian Army's Northern Command was inducted into the Siachen Glacier. Helicopters landed in an area where perhaps eagles fear to tread. The vagaries of nature coupled with the awesomeness of glaciated heights launched our aviators on to the course of helicopter pioneering, unheard of in the annals of aviation anywhere in the world. The daredevil pilots were put to the ultimate test professionally and in terms of human endurance. The Army Aviation operated its helicopters carrying men and material in the highest battlefield of the world, culminating in the conquest of the entire 72 km of the Siachen Glacier. Innumerable skirmishes and confrontations are taking place in the ongoing operations in the Siachen Glacier and Army Aviation is providing the required support for sustenance of our troops.

The Sri Lanka operations saw full-fledged jungle warfare application of Army Aviation resources in extremely hostile conditions. The corps won laurels for its daring performance in the face of all odds. Army Aviation has also been operating in the jungle, mountain and riverine terrain of the country in the East and North East since long.

A unit of Army Aviation had the unique distinction of operating in Somalia, as part of UNOSOM II, from October 1993 to November 1994. During these operations, the flight flew over 2,000 hours without any accident-and maintained 100 per cent serviceability in an environment akin to our desert terrain. Army aviators have also been operating in the desert areas since long. In fact, some of the Army's biggest battles and peacetime exercises have been carried out in the deserts and areas contiguous to the plains of Punjab.

Army Aviation has participated in all wars since Independence. The Army Aviation has an exposure of participating in a war-like scenario in operation Vijay. The present Army Aviation Corps has come a long way from directing artillery fire. It has now graduated to perform multifaceted tasks in battlefield and will soon emerge as the primary battle-winning factor in the future wars.

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