In a bid to boost its firepower at the borders, India is planning to deploy its deadly American Apache attack helicopters at the sensitive Pathankot airbase in Punjab as well as Jorhat in Assam to fortify the northeastern sector. The defence ministry cleared a $2.2 billion contract with the US in 2015 for 22 Apache attack helicopters that will strengthen the Indian Air Force's capabilities on the frontiers with Pakistan and China.
"At present, the Air Force is planning to deploy the two squadrons of the Apache helicopters in Pathankot in Punjab and Jorhat in Assam to meet the security requirements of the western and the eastern theatre," sources in the defence ministry told Mail Today. The Pathankot airbase already has a component of the Russian-origin Mi-35 attack helicopters, which are used for supporting the advance of the Army in war against the enemy infantry and tank regiments while Jorhat would be getting an attack helicopter unit for the first time.
The infrastructure for hosting the helicopters in the two bases would also be completed as per the delivery schedule along with the other requirements at these bases. Indian pilots and air crew are also getting trained on the new choppers so that they can operate the helicopters when they arrive in India. The preparation of the Indian crew is also part of the deal that the two sides signed.
The Air Force has been flying the attack helicopters for a long time in support of Army's operations but the land force now wants to control the aerial assets also as it feels that its pilots would be better suited to support operations on the ground. In this regard, the Army is also moving a case for acquiring 11 Apache choppers as part of the repeat order for the ones the IAF is getting. Apache will be the first pure attack helicopter in the Indian forces.
The IAF already operates two squadrons of the Russian origin Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, which are deployed close to the front lines on the Pakistan border. But these choppers are on the verge of retirement and were designed only to carry troops into heavily defended territories. Equipped with laser and infrared systems for all weather, day-night operability, the Apache fires the Hellfire air-to-air missiles apart from its arsenal of 70-mm rockets and automatic cannon.
The twin-engine Apache, operated by two pilots, is capable of detecting 256 moving targets with its doughnut-shaped Longbow radar and engaging them simultaneously. The choppers are scheduled to be delivered in the next couple of years to the Air Force along with the Chinook-64D heavy lift helicopters, which would be used to airlift machinery and heavy equipment in support of troops deployed in high mountainous regions such as Ladakh and the Northeast.
India had signed the deals for the Apache and Chinook helicopters simultaneously after a tendering process of almost eight years involving Russian and American firms. The Chinook choppers are planned to be based at the Chandigarh airbase, which is also home to the world's biggest choppers - the Russian Mi-26, which is used rarely these days for special airlift missions only. The public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is also working on developing the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter in the attack chopper category but it is in a lighter class than the Apaches.
The LCH would be built in large numbers by HAL and would be deployed by the Army and the IAF in both the western and northeastern sectors. The HAL has also developed a weaponised version of the Advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv choppers called Rudra, which are getting deployed without much teeth in bases such as Likabali in the Northeast and Bhatinda near Pakistan.