The Army Aviation Corps (AAC) expects to start overcoming its capability deficiency from the next year, rolling out the process of induction of Light Utility Helicopters (LUHs) to replace ageing fleet of Cheetahs and Chetaks besides Hermis 900 Star liner drones.

Through the next atleast four years, the AAC, which celebrated its 38th Raising Day on November 1, would be in a better operational position, having acquired different versions of indigenous helicopters and drones in adequate numbers to discharge its offensive, reconnaissance and surveillance roles. The Army gave up it’s plan to have fixed wing aircraft a couple of years back.

The Army’s aviation wing -- throttled with a changed mandate now, moving on from doing supporting role to performing combat duties in jointness with two other services of Indian Air Force and Indian Navy -- would require equivalent numbers of LUHs for reconnaissance and surveillance activities to replace about 250 Cheetahs and Chetaks it originally possessed primarily for logistical duties.

As of now, said sources, the AAC is operating just about 190 of them, with 70 per cent of their fleet being 30 year old that need urgent replacement, but they have the rare ability to operate in the world’s highest battle field of Siachen.

Self-reliance in defence

The Army is looking to contract 100 LUHs from the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). It has also issued request for information (RFI) for leasing of some number of similar copters due to limited production capacity of the HAL, informed defence sources. The AAC is in the process of finalising “good responses” it has got against the RFI so that request for proposal (RFP) could be issued for procurement of utility choppers on lease, elaborated defence sources. After some years, the Army will go back to HAL again for LUHs to realise government’s push for self reliance in defence sector.

It will take ten to twelve years to replace the entire fleet of Chetaks and Cheetahs, with their phasing out starting from another three to four years from now, sources stated. Asked to draw comparison between two copters that are being phased out and the LUH, senior defence establishment sources stated that the ones which would be inducted are good and better than Chetaks and Cheetahs owing to fact that it has better load capacity and is fitted with auto pilot that makes flying comfortable for the pilots. In the manual format, it’s difficult for the pilots to fly such platforms more than 30 to 35 minutes, observed defence sources.

Similarly, the AAC raised, deployed and operationalised first squadron of Light Combat Helicopters (LCHs) this year but they are looking about 90 of them which are being armed with anti-tank guided Helina missiles manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), said top defence establishment sources. The trial for firing the Helina missiles, developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), from the LCH have been completed and presently integration is going on, said defence sources. The HAL and the BDL have sought two years time to complete the integration process and the AAC is hoping to get about 80 missiles in their armoury in three years times. The remaining LCH squadron is expected to come up in 16 to 18 months, said defence sources without giving numbers owing to confidentiality.

Other than that the Army would be getting six Apache helicopters as part of ₹5691-crore worth deal signed in 2020 with US-based defence and aerospace company, Boeing. Defence sources ruled out additional orders for Apaches given that it is sufficient to meet Army’s requirement with the jointness and theaterisation in the offing that provides operational bonding.

The inventory of Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAs) or the drones AAC has will also go up, with next year’s acquisition of satcom-enabled Hermis 900 Star liners that are being manufactured in Hyderabad by a joint venture of Elbit Systems of Israel and Adani Group of India. “The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict will not create a problem since the airframes have already been made at Hyderabad and some equipment which had to come from Israel are already there,” top defence officials said.

As of now, the land force already has Herons MK Is and its MK II version was inducted into the AAC this year. On top of it, the Army is in the process of acquiring eight MQ-9B armed predator drones from General Atomics of US. The overall deal for 31 predators are for three services and is valued at little over $ 3 billion deal and the acquisition will take minimum three years.