In a first, the Indian Air Force is set to deploy its Apache gunships — fully armed helicopters — in the northeast, beefing up security near the disputed Sino-Indian border.
As the first batch of the Apaches is slated to arrive by July 2019, IAF has prepared its bases in Jorhat in Assam and Pathankot in Punjab to house the armed choppers.
While the existing Mi-35 gunships operated in the western front, such platforms had never been deployed in the northeast, sources told DH.
Delivery of the 22 Apache 64D Block-III attack helicopters, purchased from the USA in a government-to-government contract three years ago, would begin from July 2019 for which the IAF air crew commenced training at a Boeing facility at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
On the other hand, the two units of Chinook heavy duty choppers — also purchased from the USA — would be stationed at Chandigarh and Dinjan (Assam).
The delivery of Chinooks would begin in February 2019 for which crew training had begun at Delaware earlier this month. Four IAF pilots and four engineers are being trained initially.
Acquiring the two types of helicopters in a deal worth more than $3 billion will prove vital for the IAF for its combat capabilities and combat-support roles. Both these rotary-wing aircraft were used extensively in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The existing Russian origin Mi-35 gunships that the IAF operates at the moment have a limitation while flying high-altitudes. They couldn’t be used in the Kargil conflict as the height of several targets were nearly five km.
The Apache Longbow helicopters have better crash survivability. Both pilot and gunner have the benefit of advanced night vision sensors. The chopper has the ability to track up to 128 targets in less than a minute and engage with 16 targets.
In 2017, the government approved purchase of another six Apache gunships for the Army.
So far, all helicopters operated by the Army are unarmed as the existing Russian gunships are under the IAF’s control. In contrast, the Apache-64E will be the first armed aircraft for the Army Aviation Corps.