The mean war machine that is the BOSS of land, air and sea…
By Neeraj Mahajan
Helicopters are like donkeys. They do the dirty work- yet no one notices their importance till the next moment you again can’t do without them.
It is the age of three-dimensional warfare. Land, air, and sea — all the theaters of war need to be monitored, patrolled and controlled at the same time.
Can you imagine any troop movement from one theater to another — without helicopters?
Helicopter gunships are the next mean-flying machine, the new mobile battle platform and the new Taxis-to-War.
Helicopters play a vital role in the new security doctrine of offensive defense. There was a time when Artillery guns were called “Gods of War.” Such was the psychological impact of the guns that a mere presence of the guns at the back was enough to boost the morale of the soldiers. Battles were won or lost merely on -fact that an adequate number of guns and tanks could be deployed to support the infantry in the forward locations. Similarly, helicopters today are the new “Force Multipliers” — in counter-terrorism as well as conventional military operations.
The future wars will be helicopter wars. As Alvin Toffler prophesied, “armies that could reach further, hit harder, and get there faster would eventually win.
Helicopters – would make things possible.
Aerial mobility has been a fascinating concept. Ever since the world war, military strategists have toyed with the idea of extensively using helicopters to transport airborne and infantry units and supporting equipment, across or along the edges of the battlefield.
The Vietnam War was called America’s “Helicopter War.” The war in Afghanistan was also a “Total Helicopter War”. Operation Desert Storm was a fine example of a helicopter war. The Apache helicopters delivered the very first blow by destroying key Iraqi early warning radar sites thus opening the air corridors for bombing of Baghdad prior to the ground war. Army helicopters dominated the night time operations in the 100 hours of ground combat.
The war or terror, in Afghanistan, is another eye-opener. Both the NATO and US forces were “hungry” for helicopters.
It’s India’s turn to be the next helicopter country.
Indian Armed Forces plan to induct about 1,000 helicopters for attack, transport and utility operations by 2020. These will be worth $25-$30 billion or say Rs 16,000-20,000 Crore.
Depending on the warheads and other avionic fitments an individual helicopter would cost anything between Rs 44 to 275 Crore.
This big demand for helicopters is almost equal to 20 percent of the total global demand for military helicopters.
You might have seen the bulb advertisement where the man talks of replacing all the bulbs in the house. Similarly, India is planning to phase out its present – stock of 600 odd aging and outdated helicopters with more modern and advanced helicopters. India needs about 450 light utility, 12 VVIP, 200 attack, 139 transport, 15 heavy-lift helicopters and 50 multi-role helicopters for all the armed forces.
Some of the most sought-after features in these flying birds are- 24×7 operational capability, night vision, autocannon, machine guns, rocket pods, guided missiles, in-flight refueling capability, and strategic airlift. These helicopters are expected to have superior avionics, fire-control radar, all- weather conditions battlefield target acquisition, Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) systems and fire and forget missiles.
Some paramilitary organizations have been trying to cash in on the opportunity by projecting their own wish lists of attack helicopters for counter-terrorist; insurgency and Naxalite affected areas.
This makes India — the largest market for military helicopters outside the United States. India will be among the fastest-growing military chopper market in 2015. A market, which no helicopter manufacturer -Boeing, AgustaWestland, Sikorsky, Eurocopter, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki Mil and Kamov would like to miss out on.
South Korea, India, and China are the prominent buyers in this market.
According to Frost & Sullivan, the military will require nearly 9,000 helicopters between 2011-2020 worth US$200 billion — more than 60 percent of the global helicopter demand.
Such a large number of military helicopters are required mainly to replace/upgrade aging helicopters of all types and sizes, in western countries and emerging markets.
This symbolizes a major policy shift in India, which currently has a maximum of 700-800 helicopters, much less than even a small country like Switzerland.
A few years ago Indian Army conducted Exercise Sudarshan Shakti. Sudarshan Shakti highlighted the need for reconstituting Army Aviation as a “mini-air force”. Since then, the Army has tried to equip its Aviation arm with tactical battle-support, utility and reconnaissance helicopters for air attack, close air support and support of tanks and troops in battle.
The idea is to ‘arm’ each of the three “strike” corps with two squadrons of attack helicopters, one squadron of utility helicopter and two reconnaissance and observation squadrons. In addition to this some six squadrons of full-fledged attack helicopters may be developed to provide anti-tank and close air support operations to mechanized forces. The philosophy behind the plan is to create an aviation brigade under the operational command of each of the six Army Commanders with at least a squadron of attack and utility helicopters under each of the 13 corps commanders.
The air assault division could comprise of three brigades–one parachute and two helicopter-borne.
The Army Aviation is the youngest Corps in the Indian Army with the motto ‘Suveg Va Sudrid’. The blueprint for the new Aviation Brigades at Corps and Command Headquarters provides for lean, mean and thin strike formations with their own attack, surveillance and special operations helicopters.
Significantly in the mid-80s India wanted to modify its 54 Infantry Division into an air assault division, but the whole plan went for a six as there were not enough helicopters. As a result, the troops specifically trained for airmobile and amphibious operations were left high and dry without any transport.
Behind the current move, however, is the belief that the Army cannot always bank on the Air Force to have the same priorities and bail-out troops stranded in some godforsaken place – at the shortest possible notice, when they need it, not when the Air Force is free or has nothing else to do. One such example is of Kargil War- when the Army desperately kept on asking for helicopter support which never materialized. Instead, the it came as a rude shock to the Army to know that the present lot of helicopters, are practically useless as they cannot operate at high altitudes. Hence the army wants to strengthen its own arm of aviation, helicopters equipped with the right kind of weapons, armaments and avionics. The Army’s logic is simple, unless an Army Commander or Corps Commander has the all the resources at his disposal in both war and peace and can use them as and when he wants for operational requirements, upgradation, repair and maintenance or training – how can he possibly win a war. This is in keeping with the saying that the more you sweat in peace, the less in war
According to aviation experts, both Pakistan and China Armies have integrated army aviation wings with attack and utility helicopters for defensive and offensive operations. Even the Russian Air Force will have 400 new and modified military helicopters by 2015. In such situation India cannot afford to be lax.
Another strong logic is that since Army Aviation’s primary mission to fight a land battle and support ground operations, it should be controlled by the Army. Hence, call it the Aviation Brigade’ or by whatever name– the army has gone ahead and created an organizational structure on a trial basis.
All this seems melodramatic as till the other day Helicopters were referred to as noisy birds and a pain-in-the-ass, because of their slow speed, short range and limited lifting capabilities. Helicopters were considered to be too slow and vulnerable to ground fire. They cost too much to operate and required too much fuel. And above all they were NOT aircraft! Flying them would only waste fuel and alert the enemy.
But today the whole mindset has changed. There are of course solid reasons behind this. Most importantly Helicopters have changed the way wars had and will be fought. Can you imagine its lethality and versatility of a helicopter which can be at tree top height one moment or high above the Himalayas in the next and yet capable shoot and scoot attack – on the ground, midair and anything at sea besides ground to air, air to ground or sea.
Helicopters have expanded the horizon and opened up radically different way of fighting a war. Today, instead of holding ground and engaging the enemy across vast fronts, an Army can quickly carry troops into hostile territory, deploy them and later remove them after the fighting ends. Helicopter Pilots swear by the chopper’s capability to land and lift material without forward motion.
A Helicopter-borne air-to-air combat – at low speeds and low altitudes– is very quick and furious and almost impossible to disengage once the fight starts. Fighting a helicopter is a very dangerous close-in a gun fight and unless you fire first, you are gone. Besides, you could be in trouble your opponent can see you but you can’t. Just like tanks kill other tanks, you need at least a chopper and of course luck to hunt, chase or neutralize another chopper.
A typical helicopter gunship fitted with all kinds of armaments and missiles is like a samurai that can destroy around 17 times its cost before being destroyed.