Within days of Defence Minister A.K. Antony downplaying the turf war between the Army and the Air Force over control and operation of attack helicopters, the government finally decided to give their control to the Army.
“We have received a letter from the Defence Ministry and we have been given the attack helicopters by the government,” Army Chief General Bikram Singh said here on Friday.
A source in the Ministry said the letter given to the Army states that all future attack helicopters would be with the Army. The Army’s Aviation Corps would pilot, operate and maintain the attack choppers. From the time of floating the request for procuring attack helicopters, it would take nearly three years for the choppers to land in India and get inducted in the Army.
Demanding control over attack and medium-lift helicopters, the Army had been saying that such choppers were mainly used for its operations and it should be operating them. The Air Force had been opposing the Army’s demand.
The Army had been maintaining that the induction of tactical and attack choppers into the force was an “inescapable operational necessity” as infrastructure along the borders with China was “far from satisfactory” and such assets would be needed to cut down on the time for movement.
The two forces had been at odds over the issue and the differences surfaced openly when IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne contended that the country could not afford to have “little air forces” growing.
At present, the attack helicopters, under the operational command of the Army, are flown by IAF pilots and the Air Force maintains the fleet with its own budget.
Seeking to play down the tussle, Mr. Antony recently described it as a “family problem” and said the government was in the final stages of resolving the matter.
“There is no tussle and there is no war. These are all family problems and we will find a solution,” he said.
According to its plans, the Army wants to raise attack chopper squadrons as part of its strike corps and then at every corps level. Sources said that as far as the medium lift helicopters were concerned, there would be a review to ensure prioritisation of tasks to meet the operational needs.
The IAF is likely to get 22 American AH-64D Apache helicopters. Used in the Gulf War and Afghanistan, American AH-64D Apache is dubbed as one of the world’s most powerful combat helicopters. The IAF operates and flies attack helicopters like the Mi 25/ Mi-35 which are owned and administered by it but under the operational control of the Army and play a major role to support the armoured columns and infantry.
Apart from the attack role, helicopters like the HAL Chetak, Cheetah and Dhruv provide logistical support for the Army in remote and inaccessible areas, especially the Siachen Glacier. The Army Aviation Corps (AAC), formed in November 1987, also performs tasks such as search and rescue and medical evacuation during war and also in the case of natural calamities.