Updated: Nov 20
Indian Army Aviation Corps in combination with the Indian Air Force effectively provide combat and logistics aviation support to the Indian armed forces deployed on the difficult land borders of the country with constant requirement of aerial support given the challenges of terrain and weather. The outline configuration with status of assets is reviewed as follows-
Army Aviation Corps
The Army Aviation Corps (AAC) is the core arm which caters for combat helicopters as well as utility for the Army. The AAC is provided by backup for operational lifts by the Indian Air Force. The AAC is based on integrated aviation brigades – three of which are in place, two on the border along the Line of Actual Control and one on the western front with Pakistan. Each corps sized formation is expected to have an integrated aviation brigade in support.
Given that there are 14 Corps at present in the Army, 11 more Aviation Brigades will have to be raised with requisite aviation assets.
Apart from rotary wing aircraft, the AAC operates the drones of the Army and is expected to hold and operate the MQ 9 Predator drones when acquired.
India is set to induct a limited number of Apache helicopters form the US with the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) also known as 'Prachanda' likely to be the mainstay of the Indian Army and Air Force attack fleets. The Indian Army will be receiving six heavy-duty Apache attack helicopters, armed with Stinger air-to-air missiles, Hellfire Longbow air-to-ground missiles, guns and rockets, under the Rs 5,691 crore deal inked with the US in February 2020. The deliveries of the six AH-64E Apache attack choppers, often called “tanks in the air”, will take place in batches in the February-June timeframe 2024 as reported by the Times of India. 22 Apache helicopters have already been inducted by the IAF under the Rs 13,952 crore deal inked in September 2015.
Indian Army and IAF have finalised order of 156 more indigenous ‘Prachand’ light combat helicopters, from defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) Times of India reported. Of this, the Army will get 90 of the new Prachand choppers, while 66 are meant for the IAF. These are in addition to the 15 inducted by the Army and the IAF.
The first Prachand squadron is now deployed at Missamari as part of the aviation brigade in the eastern sector. The Army is also going to acquire around 500 Helina third-generation tank-killing missiles with a maximum 8-km strike range to arm the Prachand in times to come
Rudra is the armed version of the Light Combat Helicopter. The army's Spear Corps posted a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, showing the heads-up display (HUD) of the attack helicopter Rudra while "raining fire and steel". "The Indian Army fired the New Generation Rocket and Turret Ammunition from the Rudra, the first indigenous attack helicopter. The efficacy of the platform augments the strike capability and lethality in the mountains. Corps Commander complimented the aviators on their professionalism and operational preparedness," the Spear Corps said in the post on X. — Spearcorps (@Spearcorps). The Army has 60 Rudras.
These helicopters are based on the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH) which is under scrutiny for design flaws and is likely to remain under the shadow if there are more accidents.
Light Utility Helicopters (LUH)
The Indian Army continues to be dependent on the Cheetah and Chetak light utility helicopters. Around 15 Cheetahs and Chetaks have crashed during the last 10 years, killing several pilots. Despite the heavy losses in terms of trained pilots and others, the programmes for replacement of some 250 LUH have been slow. In August 2014, India scrapped for the third time a ₹6,000-crore project to import light utility helicopters to replace Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. Another significant attempt was made with Kamov-226T light utility choppers, planned to be built jointly with Russia as there were multiple issues between the two sides. The option is now closed due to Russian engagement in the War in Ukraine.
Now induction of LUH and leasing as a stopgap to meet critical requirements is being planned. “We will order around 100 LUHs from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Given the production capacity of HAL, we must look at alternative means to replace the entire fleet. Leasing some helicopters for a few years is an option, and then we can go back to HAL for the remaining numbers,” an official was quoted by the media.
The officials said that LUH is now being fitted with an autopilot by HAL, will meet the army’s requirements in high-altitude areas and the helicopter will have a better load-carrying capacity than Cheetahs and Chetaks. “Autopilot is a key requirement as LUH has a different rotor system. Flying LUH beyond 30-35 minutes becomes humanly impossible because of the loads which come back on the pilot. Once autopilot is fitted, the load-carrying capability of LUH will be phenomenal,” said the second official, adding that LUH can carry 25 to 30% more load than Cheetah.
Utility Helicopters are mainly held by the Indian Air Force and the Army. The Indian Air Force as per Flight Global 2023 holds 222 Mi 17 helicopters in various versions. The Indian Army currently has over 180 Dhruvs Advance Light Helicopters, with over 60 being the weaponized version called Rudra. The IAF has 75, Navy 23 and Coast Guard 18 Advanced Light Helicopters respectively.