After a three-year delay, the government has finally cleared the purchase of new attack and heavy lift helicopters from the US. The $2.5 billion deal for a new fleet of 15 Chinook and 22 Apache choppers are a huge boost for the air force & the contract is likely to be expanded to larger number in coming years. The private sector will benefit as the contract will bring in over $600 million into the defence & aerospace sector as offsets for the deal. Besides, both helicopters are game changer. for India and not just on the military front. Here is why:
AH-64E APACHE, the battlefield game changer:
THE MACHINE: Described as the most lethal attack helicopter in the world, the Apache has been in service since 1984 with over 2,100 machines produced. The version that India is purchasing is the latest Block III configuration that the US first got in 2011. A total of 22 choppers are being bought for $ 1.4 billion.
ITS ROLE: The stealthy, versatile chopper is designed for all kinds of missions. Equipped with laser and infrared systems for a weather, day-night operability, the Apache fires the Hellfire missiles, besides its arsenal of 70 mm rockets and an automatic cannon. WHAT IT MEANS FOR INDIA: The Apache will be the first pure attack helicopter in India’s possession. While the Russian origin Mi 35 has been operated for years and is now on the verge of retirement, it was an assault chopper that was designed to carry troops into heavily defended territories. The two pilot Apache is a dedicated attack chopper that experts believe will be a ‘game changer’ in the tactical battle scenario.
THE CONTROVERSY: The Army and the Air Force have been sparring over who should operate the Apaches. While the procurement for 22 choppers was mooted by the IAF, the army has put in a strong case for inducting the machines as they are meant for close operations. The Army has now moved a proposal to purchase 39 Apaches for its aviation wing.
CH-47F CHINOOK, the road builder giant:
THE MACHINE: The iconic twin rotor chopper is a battle proven machine that has fl own countless missions into warzones from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. While the original Chinook first flew in 1962, it has undergone several upgrades and is now one of the most modern heavy lift choppers in the world.
ITS ROLE: The massive helicopter can carry 9.6 tons of cargo, including heavy machinery, artillery guns and even light armoured vehicles to high altitude. Suited for mountain operations, the Chinook is highly manoeuvrable and can get in and out of tight valleys. Its missions range from ferrying troops to disaster relief operations.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR INDIA: The long pending acquisition will not only augment air force’s heavy lift capability for military tasks but is a vital addition for the construction of strategic roads and infrastructure projects on the border. The Border Roads Organisation has been waiting in particular for the Chinook to complete road building projects in the North East that have been stuck for years for want of a heavy lift chopper that can carry material and equipment through narrow valleys.
THE CONTROVERSY: Since being chosen as the winner in a contest with the upgraded Mi 26 chopper in October 2012, the Chinook deal has been hanging fire. Its manufacturer Boeing had to extend its commercial bid for the contract 13 times before being cleared. Any further delay would have significantly pushed up the price of the deal from $1.1 billion.