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Wednesday 29 January 2020

Apache along Pak border, says Gen Naravane: Debate with IAF settled?

While the Indian Army cites the example of the US where its army operates the helicopter, IAF says fighting Pakistan is not as easy as fighting Iraq

The new chief of the Indian Army, Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane, sharing the vision of his force in times to come, said today that six Apache attack helicopters will be given to the unit deployed on the western borders. He said the country faces more threat from that front.

US aerospace major Boeing had handed over the first four of the 22 Apache attack helicopters to the Indian Air Force on 27 July 2019 while another batch of four choppers was delivered the next week. The delivery of the first batch of the AH-64E Apache helicopters to the IAF at the Hindon airbase came nearly four years after a multi-billion dollar deal for the choppers was sealed.

During a press conference held in Delhi, the army chief was questioned whether, according to the political leadership, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) could one day become a part of India. He said it was a parliamentary resolution that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India. If Parliament wants so, that region (PoK) “should also belong to us”.

Gen Naravane said, “When we get orders in this direction, we will take appropriate action.”

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had inducted US-made Apache AH-64E attack helicopters into the IAF at Pathankot in Punjab on 3 September 2019. The AH-64E Apache is one of the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopters and is flown by the US Army.

On the threat from the Pakistan Army and the terrorists on the other side of the LoC, Gen Naravane said that the forces were very active. “We receive intelligence alerts daily and view them very seriously. It is because of these alerts that we are able to fail these actions known of the BAT (Border Action Team),” the army chief said.

The army chief gave a mantra. In the coming days, he said, “We will focus on quality and not on quantity. Be it buying equipment for the army or recruiting soldiers in the army.”

These are the first of 22 Apaches that will equip two IAF attack helicopter squadrons that have, so far, flown Russian-origin Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters. The first to fly the Apache will be Pathankot-based 125 Helicopter Unit, named “Gladiators”. Next up for the Apache will be 104 Helicopter Unit, based in Suratgarh, Rajasthan.

Both these Apache units are scheduled to be fully equipped and operational by end-2020.

On the issue of inclusion of women soldiers in the army, the army chief said the training of the first batch of 100 women personnel started on 6 January.

Gen Naravane further said that the Indian Army was better prepared today than before. He added that India had to train for the future and “this is where our training emphasis will be”.

On complaints against army officers stationed in the Kashmir Valley, the general said that the commander’s decision had to be respected. “Any complaint that has been filed has proved unfounded,” he said.

The army chief said further that the appointment of the chief of defence staff (CDS) was a major step towards the integration of India’s military forces and “we will ensure on our part that it is successful”.

Gen Naravane told the media on the killing of two unarmed civilians by the Pakistan Army in Poonch sector, “We do not resort to such barbaric activities and fight as a very professional force. We will deal with such situations militarily.”

Apache for Indian Army or IAF?

But if Gen Naravane is speaking of deploying Apache, has the issue as to who owns these helicopters, between the Indian Army and the IAF, been resolved? On the one hand, the IAF flew the Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters; so it must ‘inherit’ the Apache. On the other, army pilots should fly support assets directly employed in a tactical ground battle as they understand the ground battle.

Apache units are a part of the US Army. Most advanced military powers like the British Army have adopted the same model.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the then governments raised the Army Aviation Corps to use light helicopters. The army inducted not only the indigenous Dhruv chopper but also its armed version Rudra. The army has said it will take charge of India’s first indigenous attack chopper, the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), as well.

But the IAF argues that the Apache is not just a battlefield support platform. It has always been said the Apache “will enhance the capability of IAF in providing integrated combat aviation cover to the army strike corps”. It says IAF alone can make the helicopter work in the following ways.

  • mount “shallow surgical strikes” across the Indo-Pakistan frontier
  • fly low-level strikes on Pakistan’s air defence radar network
  • clear an “electronic safe path” for IAF strike fighter to fly safely to strike deeper-lying targets

However, the US Army’s use of the Apache may be misleading. Since Iraq did not have a good radar network, US Army Apaches was virtually unchallenged. Pakistani radar and air defence network can detect the Apaches.

With inputs from Ajai Shukla’s article in Business Standard

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