The Indian Army is set to renew its pitch for acquiring a fleet of lethal Apache attack helicopters of its own, reports today said. The demand, which has been strongly opposed by the Indian Air Force in the past, will be brought up again a key meeting with defence minister Arun Jailtley scheduled this weekend.
While there was no official confirmation of the development, The Times of India said the Army wants three squadrons of heavy-duty attack helicopters, among other choppers, for its three primary "strike" corps geared for rapid armoured thrusts into enemy territory.
For starters, the 1.3-million strong Army is seeking the government's approval for acquisition of 11 Apache attack helicopters from the US as "a follow-on contract" to the earlier Rs13,952 crore deal inked for 22 such copters for the IAF.
"The procurement proposal is likely to be considered by the defence acquisitions council (DAC) in its meeting to be chaired by defence minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday," said a defence ministry source.
A similar report by Mail Today said the combat helicopters for its aviation wing will enhance the firepower of the Army's strike forces along the borders with China and Pakistan. Aggressive air support is crucial for advancing ground troops in a short-term strike.
"The Army wants the latest version of the American Apache 64D attack choppers from the US through the Foreign Military Sales case for its aviation arm," the Mail's sources said. The Army is seeking to buy 39 units at a cost of more than Rs12,000 crore.
If the procurement gets the ministry's approval, it will make the Army one of the biggest operators of these choppers in the country.
The Army has been in a bitter tug of war with the Air Force over the control of attack helicopters as it feels that its own personnel flying the choppers would be in a better position to help ground forces during a conflict because they understand land warfare better than the Air Force personnel.
About the plan to acquire 39 choppers, the sources said the choppers would be divided into three squadrons of 10 each and would be deployed along both the China and Pakistan with the Strike Corps.
The Army is in the process of modernising its chopper fleet as it is leading the acquisition process for procuring 200 Kamov light choppers for itself and the Air Force to replace its fleet of vintage Cheetah and Chetak helicopters for operations in high-altitude military bases.
The Army has already placed orders for a number of indigenous attack helicopter variants which will include around 60 Rudra helicopters which are weaponised versions of the HAL-made ALH Dhruv choppers.
Based on a study by a recently retired Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), it was felt that the force required at least three squadrons of advanced Apache helicopters with the strike corps with three choppers each with every squadron as reserve. The Army operates a larger fleet of light utility choppers than the Air Force and has been asking for control over medium lift and attack choppers since the 1990s.
In 2012, then National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon decided that all future acquisitions of attack choppers would be for the ground force. However, the IAF refused to part with the Apaches saying it had started the acquisition process before 2012. The IAF already operates two squadrons of the Russian-origin Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters which are deployed close to the frontlines on the Pakistan border and frequently take part in war games with the Army.