Having recently won a hard-fought turf war with the IAF to get heavy-duty “attack” helicopters of its own, the Army is now pressing the throttle to get its “mini” air force up and flying as soon as possible. Army chief General Bikram Singh has approved the creation of a permanent cadre for the Army Aviation Corps (AAC) by the end of this month, which will operate light observation and attack helicopters in the short-term and medium-lift choppers and even fixed-wing aircraft in the long-term, sources said. The US, China and Pakistan are among countries that have a dedicated aviation wing within their armies.
Moreover, raising of “aviation brigades” for each of the 1.13-million strong Army’s three “strike” and 10 “pivot” corps (each has around 75,000 soldiers) has already commenced, with one already in place at the 14 Corps deployed in Ladakh. At present, the AAC operates around 250 light helicopters like Druv, Cheetah and Chetak, while attack and medium-lift choppers were always the IAF’s preserve. The Army now wants one attack helicopter squadron (10-12 choppers) for its three “strike” formations – 1 Corps (Mathura), 2 Corps (Ambala) and 21 Corps ( Bhopal) — in keeping with their primary offensive role. Moreover, it has plans to induct another 114 ‘Rudra’ light combat helicopters for the 10 ‘pivot’ corps.
The force’s long-term plans include a squadron each of attack/armed, reconnaissance/observation and tactical battle-support helicopters for all the 13 corps. In addition, the force wants each of its six regional or operational commands to get “a flight” of five fixed-wing aircraft for tactical airlift of troops and equipment. At present, the AAC has a temporary cadre of around 10,000 personnel, half of them being technicians. The other 5,000 come on deputation of two to three years from the infantry, artillery, air defence, mechanized infantry and the like. “These 5,000 will now be given the option to opt permanently for AAC,” said a source.
Direct recruitment of junior commissioned officers (JCOs) and other ranks for the AAC, in turn, will begin from April 2015. As for officers, Gen Singh has directed the military secretary to “substantially increase” the officers being commissioned into AAC from the Indian Military Academy (Dehradun) and the Officers Training Academies (Chennai and Gaya). “The overall plan is to enhance the complete capability of AAC, from manpower and training to equipment and infrastructure,” said the source. All this comes within two months of defence minister AK Antony ruling that “future” procurements and inductions of attack helicopters — armed with guided missiles, cannons and rockets to target enemy infantry and tanks on the ground — will be for the Army. IAF is worried that it will lead to sheer duplication of efforts and waste of scarce resources. The Army, however, is all gung-ho about getting its own “tactical” mini air force, implying IAF can continue with its “strategic” air role.