As six helicopters of the Air Force are set to complete three years of active engagement in anti-Naxal operations, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne said on Friday that the Home Ministry and paramilitary forces should realise that there was no alternative to putting the “boots on the ground” and opening and securing the road network in the Naxal-infested areas in dense forests of Central India.

“We have explained flying engagements to the Home Ministry. We are not for doing every little job with our heavy lift helicopters. We are helping in logistics support, evacuation, and transportation in anti-Naxal operations. We just cannot put our helicopters in the jungle. We operate in a ‘hub and spoke’ manner,” he told journalists at a press conference three days before the 80 anniversary of the IAF.

Air Chief Marshal Browne said the IAF had requested the government to make sure that the States hit by left-wing extremism improved their infrastructure to guarantee the safety and security of IAF choppers and men involved in anti-Naxal operations.

“As far as the infrastructure [in Naxal-affected areas] is concerned, yes, we have a problem. We were sure of a certain amount of infrastructure, which was to come up; unfortunately, that hasn’t happened,” he said.

“Our request has been to the Chief Secretaries to get adequate infrastructure, because during monsoon, our helicopters are parked outside, and our crew doesn’t have a place to rest,” he said. A gallant IAF chopper pilot, braving nine hits, evacuated 14 casualties during anti-Naxal operations, he pointed out.

While maintaining that six helicopters were “more than adequate” for anti-Naxal operations, he said there was no plan to increase the number of helicopters for such operations. Their pilots had flown more than 5000 sorties during anti-Naxal operations.

The IAF would soon start flying choppers with night flying capabilities. “We are close to getting Mi-17 V-5 helicopters and in due course of time, we will be able to switch to full night operations. These are far more capable in terms of safety,” he said.

The Rules of Engagement for the force won’t change in anti-Naxal operations. “We will not open offensive fire unless we are fired upon.” The IAF had transported more than 30,000 troops of the paramilitary forces and passengers in the Naxal-affected areas.