Issue Vol. 28.3 Jul-Sep 2013
Date : 23 Sep , 2013
The Attack Helicopter has value for money in a relatively benign environment for short, swift Special Operations where the opposition has restricted ability to interdict the AH. Other countries have huge air arms for each Service, some of which are now closing down. There is no justification for India to mimic defunct, untried and indeed failed strategies developed for European and Middle East scenarios. This approach may mislead us into a weapons procurement minefield. Thereafter, wasteful expenditure will hamper us from getting what we really need for India’s safety and security.
Attack Helicopters in support of huge mechanised attacking or defending armies have never been tested against any enemy…
It is with much trepidation that one reads about acquisition of Attack Helicopters (AH) for the Armed Forces. Ground Force commanders have always demanded dedicated air borne offensive fire power placed directly under their command as they are convinced these are indispensible for victory. The commander equates airborne firepower with armour, artillery, combat engineers that are under command and integral to the Division or Corps. He believes, incorrectly, that under-command airborne fire, he will win the land battle. He ignores the inherent flexibility of airborne weapons which precludes limiting that firepower within restricted areas. Why squeeze that flexible and swiftly re-locatable capability?
The Indian Air Force (IAF), on the other hand, appears to be averse to let airborne weapons systems be with anyone except themselves. Their fear is that when one such weapon system goes outside their command and control, there will be an exodus of other similar airborne weapons. Precedents are awful to deal with.
Over the last few decades as Indian Army strategists were exposed to American doctrines of warfare in Europe, the desire to acquire ‘under-command’ air power became paramount. The Indian Army’s battle theories against Pakistan became copies of NATO hypotheses to thwart the ‘Soviet Steamroller’ overwhelming Western Europe. Strike formations with terrific mobility became the bedrock of fighting concepts in India’s Western theatre. Many actually believed that such bold plans would succeed and they conducted exercises and rehearsals culminating in Operations such as Operation BRASSTACKS and Operation PARAKRAM.
Deducing that a mobile and fluid battlefield would emerge with mechanised and armoured forces covering great distances, concepts for airborne firepower to support these forces emerged in the form of the AH. Regrettably, the concept is intrinsically flawed and the question arises whether it will fructify in India.
The Indian Air Force appears to be averse to let airborne weapons systems be with anyone except themselves…
Without bias and rancour, one can deduce the true utility of Attack Helicopters in India – these expensive flying machines have limited value and poor effectiveness and acquisition of the AH may be a seriously flawed concept.
Where Has the Attack Helicopter Been Decisive?
The appropriate answer would be – no where. AHs in support of huge mechanised attacking or defending armies have never been tested against any enemy. Exercises in Europe with Red & Blue forces could not give a correct picture of how the helicopters would perform. What attrition would they suffer? How would the mechanised formations changing directions, out-maneuvering each other keep their helicopters with them? How will the ground forces, who need to be within about 500 metres to recognise enemy tanks, identify own AHs from those of the enemy?
More pertinently, how will the AH pilots differentiate friend from foe? What happens with sudden reversals and retreats to re-group for counter-offensive? What is the impact on own forces when own AHs are destroyed among maneuvering tanks and infantry combat vehicles? The infamous fog of war becomes foggier with helicopters raising dust and howling jet engines. None of this can be ignored and wished away.