The Indian Air Force (IAF) support for anti-naxal operations is all set to enlarge its footprint in the densely-forested Bastar region of Chhattisgarh that witnessed one of the worst and most fierce Naxal attacks last week, killing 27 people, including top State leaders of the Congress.

The Maoist hotbed of Jagdalpur in Bastar will see enhanced Air Force support, as more helicopters would be made available for evacuation and surveillance, when a new helicopter unit comes up in Nagpur within the next few days.

Rules of engagement to remain same

Talking to journalists on the sidelines of the DRDO annual awards function, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne stressed upon deploying new systems in the Maoist-hit areas which would provide better surveillance capabilities to the forces stationed there. He said that the rules of engagement would remain the same.

At present, the IAF has deployed six MI-17 choppers from a unit based in Gorakhpur and they operate from three locations, including Ranchi in Jharkhand, and Raipur and Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh, to support the anti-naxal operations.

“We are going to raise a unit of our latest MI-17 V5 choppers in Nagpur by next month which will provide full support to anti-Naxal operations in Jagdalpur,” the IAF chief said.

Faster response

He said the base of the new unit would be closer to Chattisgarh and would have faster response time in case of some incident there. The Nagpur unit would deploy two to three of its MI-17 V5 choppers in Jagdalpur, which would be capable of carrying out both day and night operations.

He said the decision to deploy these choppers in Nagpur had been taken two months ago and had nothing to do with last week’s incident.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony reiterated that the armed forces would not be deployed in anti-Naxal operations in a direct role. Asked if the Defence ministry would provide help in the form of training para-military personnel, he said that any support was required for the training would be extended.

The Air Force uses its choppers in the anti-Naxal operations for carrying out casualty evacuations and the transportation of police and Central forces in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The Air Chief Marshal said that the Air Force was in the contract-negotiation stage for the procurement of five major systems including the Medium Multilrole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender.

He expressed the hope that the deal for the 126 Rafale combat jet would be inked by this year-end.

He said talks were in final stages for procuring 22 Apache choppers, 15 Chinook heavylift choppers and additional six C-130J Super Hercules special operations aircraft from the U.S. and six mid-air refuelling aircraft from Airbus Military of Europe this year.

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