Attack Helicopters: Should India Have Them? It is with much epidation 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. Foreign Doctrines Over the last few decades as Indian Army strategists were exposed to American doctrines of warfare in Europe, the desire to acquire â€˜under-commandâ€™ air power became paramount. The Indian Armyâ€™s battle theories against Pakistan became copies of NATO hypotheses to thwart the â€˜Soviet Steamrollerâ€™ overwhelming Western Europe. Strike formations with terrific mobility became the bedrock of fighting concepts in Indiaâ€™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 themselvesâ€¦ Without bias and rancour, one can deduce the true utility of Attack Helicopters in India â€“ 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 â€“ 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. The Middle East and Afghanistan This is where Americans and Soviets utilised their AHs â€“ with no advantage, and that too, against a poorly endowed enemy with weak doctrine and training. Our adversary on the other hand, is well trained and has soldiers who have been known to fight courageously. With the latest technology at their command, American AHs caused many Blue-on-Blue engagements during both the First and Second Gulf Wars, but with negligible destruction of enemy forces. The Israelis found nothing great about AHs during the Lebanese and Gaza skirmishes. Even today Israelis use only fixed-wing aircraft, not AHs inside Gaza and Lebanon. Lesson for India? Soviet AHs lost heavily in Afghanistan. There are true stories of Afghans knocking out AHs using wire-guided anti-tank missiles. Recall the American helicopter destroyed in Mogadishu with humiliation to aircrew. Can we ignore the fact that over 5,000 helicopters lost in Vietnam and against what type of weapons and enemy? That is how vulnerable an AH is. It is a slow moving target and extremely easy to destroy during hover. And the greatest aerodynamic capability of the helicopter is hovering, a critical disadvantage in close-quarter battles. And does the Army want such a weapon? Even the IAF needs to rethink on AHs and their utility to support forces on the ground. The Mountains of India: In Ladakh and Arunachal It is in the mountains that the AH will face its severest test and will, in all probability, fail. This is well known and has been evaluated often to squeeze some positive outcome but to no avail. Readers will be amazed to know that the first proposal for AH was for the defence of Bhutan. Observe the latest imbroglio about changing the QRs for VVIP helicopters with altitude being the defining factor. The extremely inhospitable terrain with its lengthy border in the mountains precludes the use of AH or any other helicopters in the offensive role. Suffice it to say, AHs are bound to be under-utilised in the mountains, and since India has thousands of miles of mountainous borders to defend, the AH with the Army or the IAF is a zero force multiplier. Regrettably, there are many who refuse to accept this truth and insist that the AH is the panacea for some of the ills plaguing airborne warfare. The Armyâ€™s insistence to acquire AHs is based on the most specious indefensible reasoning. The IAF advises against their acquisition and indeed, even placing them, if acquired, under the Army. The bureaucrats in the MoD, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defence Production smirk at this rivalry that ultimately leads to inordinate delay in the procurement of weapons. Desperately required routine acquisitions get sidelined and finally, when hostilities break out, the Chief is left with little choice but to declare, â€œâ€¦We will fight with whatever we have.â€ Is this a display of jointmanship? Or is it plain cussedness and attendant degradation of Indiaâ€™s military acumen and strength, with our adversaries laughing at our discomfort and dissipated fighting capability? Do the proponents demanding AHs weigh these deleterious implications on morale? Frontline fighting formations are aware of this injudicious infighting. The Heights of the Himalayas All aero-engines degrade in power output with increasing altitude and therefore, the thrust of turbojet engines decays at just 10,000 feet, the colour of the pilotâ€™s uniform cannot recompense. At 17,000 feet, the thrust falls even further. At 20,000 feet, the height at which attack helicopters are expected to fly, there is less than 50 per cent oxygen to generate thrust. This is the inviolable verity of physics and has nothing to do with Sena Bhavan versus Vayu Sena Bhavan. Both Army and IAF pilots know this fact. Helicopter pilots operating in Siachen, Arunachal, Ladakh and Uttarakhand have experienced this phenomenon and know the perils of limited thrust. Many fatal accidents are attributed to pilots who have ignored this aeronautical truth. Since no AH can perform at peak levels in the mountains where the Army most needs them, why acquire them at all? There must be a reason that is non-military; or is it plain ego? Since India has thousands of miles of mountainous borders to defend, the AH with the Army or the IAF is a zero force multiplierâ€¦ Advocating that the Army must have its own Aviation arm, many Army strategists have castigated the IAF for being cussed and obdurate about AHs for the Army. The IAFâ€™s obstinacy may well have prevented â€˜wasteful expenditureâ€™ for a weapon that has little use anywhere in India. For the sake of hypothesis, let us imagine what the AHs would have done during the recent face-off with the Chinese. Fly around as a show of force? If that is all that is to be done, why buy AHs? Fly around in Mi-17s. Beyond doubt, we have established that AHs will be under-utilised, ineffective and become the proverbial â€˜white elephantâ€™ for the Services in the mountains Gaza and Golan Heights It is true that in the Golan Heights and the Gaza strip, the Israeli Air Force deploys AHs that work in conjunction with UAVs and attack specific targets such as vehicles, buildings and hide-outs. Within Israel, there is no remaining opposition to the helicopters to fire their lethal missiles with precision guidance. It is pertinent that Israel does not use its AHs in close support of armoured formations for sweeping across the Negev, assaulting Golan, razing Gaza or entering Lebanon. The Israelis know it would be futile, waste of resources and attract heavy attrition to small arms. What about Indian AHs in Punjab and Rajasthan? Into the Killing Grounds? Why then, does the Indian Army want to procure the Attack Helicopter in support of our armoured and mechanised formations? The AH will have to move with tanks/APCs, manoeuver in the tactical battle area; it will fly low and slow in restricted visibility where the enemy cannot be easily discerned and extensive small arms, to which it is extremely vulnerable, will be directed against the helicopter. No other Army on Earth adopts this doctrine and philosophy in actual practice. It has failed in Iraq, not once but twice. Helicopter casualties in Vietnam were horrendous as was Soviet helicopter attrition in Afghanistan. The plains of Punjab and the deserts of Rajasthan will become the killing grounds for Indiaâ€™s AHs which will be floating around within small geographical boundaries under direct command of the Division or Corps Commanders. Being under command they have to remain within the Division or Corps battle zone but that will defeat the inherent flexibility and purpose of airborne weapon platforms. Is that not reason enough to avoid procuring them? And what happens when the killing begins? The helicopters will have to withdraw just as the Mi-17s were forced to in the Kargil War? Will the Corps Commander fight without them or wait until AHs rejoin the battle? Are we planning on acquiring extremely expensive flying machines knowing full well their limited utility in the plains, zero capability in the mountains and high vulnerability everywhere? Amazing! We know that tanks have to close up to 500 metres before they can identify and engage enemy armour and the AH will be right there, making itself extremely vulnerable to SAMs, MMGs, RPGs and small arms. Hardly tells of sound strategy or shrewd tactics. The AH in the Kargil Conflict Whither Leadership and Vision? Taking care of oneâ€™s turf, boosting promotion opportunities in oneâ€™s Service, adding flavor to units and formations are some of the responsibilities of senior military commanders and are necessary for morale, and for glorifying military capabilities. But at what cost? How can any senior military leader willfully acquire weapon systems that do not significantly add to the offensive and defensive strength of a Service? If the AH has no value except during ceremonial occasions and firepower displays, does it need to be acquired? Here is a true story that emerged from the Kargil conflict. An AH was demanded by the Army to attack some intruders who had captured certain peaks in the Kargil sector (as conveyed to the AOC J&K at Udhampur). Heavy with armour plating, the AH cannot climb and cross Zoji La into Ladakh. Hence, the AH could not be tasked for attacking intruders on Kargil slopes. It cannot fly across those heights into Ladakh due to an intrinsic design limitation. This was explained by the AOC. However, till date, the media repeatedly states that the IAFâ€™s reluctance and unwillingness to help the Army was the reason for the IAFâ€™s hesitation in using AHs in the Kargil Conflict. This canard is a sad commentary of how truths and facts are distorted for petty inter-service rivalry, immediately exploited by the politico-bureaucratic combine and the sensation-hungry media. Damage control is impossible; the truth is neither gripping enough for Prime Time TV nor Front Page news. The canard lives on; fiction becomes fact. Even today, after 14 years, this misleading fabrication remains a thorny issue between the Army and the IAF. And, which is why the Army is strongly bidding for the AH to be placed under them so that the Armyâ€™s AH will support its troops, which the IAF is supposedly reluctant to do. How the Armyâ€™s AH, with its armour-plating will cross Zoji La, Rohtang, Khardung La, Baralachala and other high passes to get to the battle zones of Ladakh remains a mystery and needs closer examination. Will the Army AH use thrust augmentation devices to boost the thrust of the AH engines? How will they remove the heavy armour plating? Yes, indeed that is exactly what the IAF did. They removed the armour plating of the AH which went on to cross the Zoji La carrying an insignificant amount of armament. The harsh truth is that helicopters will be useless offensive fire power platforms in the mountainsâ€¦ Thus, it begs the question â€“ is the AH of the Army to battle in the mountains without armour plating and with limited armament? The AH with its poor offensive capacity in the mountains is as defenseless as the MI-17 was in Kargil 1999. Putting the AH under the command of the Indian Army cannot make it a better fighting machine than when under the command of the IAF. The harsh truth is that helicopters will be useless offensive firepower platforms in the mountains. It makes no difference to the AH whether the senior commander is a General, an Air Marshal or an Admiral for that matter. The insatiable desire of Army formation commanders to have everything â€˜under commandâ€™ is a flawed concept when talking about the AH or any airborne weapon system. Many senior Army commanders have even expressed opinions that fixed-wing dedicated ground attack aircraft for Close Air Support should justifiably be placed â€˜under commandâ€™ of the Army Commander if not the Corps Commander. Can there be a more absurd, farcical, ludicrous and laughable leadership vision? Army Aviation Most certainly the Army needs its own air mobility. It must have airborne artillery observation posts to direct gunfire. Senior Army officers cannot keep requisitioning the IAF for helicopters to swiftly move within their area of responsibility. However, in creating an Army Aviation wing, the issue of duplication and parallel assets has come up with separate logistics channels. All three Services use Cheetah/Chetak yet each have their own pool of spares and rotables, each Service supplied by a common agency, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). All Army Aviation helicopters have been moved from Air Force Bases and duplicate heliports have been built at enormous cost. But that is a different tale. It is in the mountains that the AH will face its severest test and will, in all probability, fail. Do We Need More Attack Helicopters? Can anything be done with the AHs already in use with the IAF? Knowing their severe limitations, why were they procured? There is no justification for these machines being on our inventory. Now that we have them, the AHs can, at best, be used for Special Operations where stealth, surprise, limited opposition and cover of darkness reduces their vulnerability. India has been threatening to attack and destroy terrorist training camps in POK. The AH may be utilised to target the ingress routes of terrorists and to intercept Naxals as they freely wander unseen by CRPF/BSF eyes. It may be used to sanitize an area from aerial or surface intervention on occasions such as Republic Day, the Commonwealth Games and places such as stadiums, bridges, dams, buildings, ports, Vital Points and Oil Rigs. There can be umpteen occasions and options where the AH would make a positive impact. For the tasks mentioned and many more that will emerge from SPG, NSG, PMO, MOD, MHA, Defence HQs et al, India needs not more than just one or two squadrons of AHs. What about the Army and Navy? From the foregoing, it is evident that the AH is incapable of supporting a land or sea battle where small arms, SAMs and other hand-held weapons used by the enemy pose a real threat to it. It is a fallacy to believe that heli-borne Special Naval Commandos can capture a ship on high seas. The AH squadron is best retained with the Air Force, readily available for all contingencies. Specialised training for aircrew will be centralised, combined with rehearsals, simulated operations, on-the-job continuation training with para-military and Special Forces. Monitoring of the state of readiness can be strictly assessed with vital inputs from the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, BSF, CRPF, NSG and SPG. There will be no duplication of resources and no multiple locations with each State of the Union seeking their quota. The AH squadron has to be positioned where infrastructure to operate and maintain specialised airborne weapon systems exist. To create even more fixed assets solely for AH units is not a viable option. IAF Stations across India are intrinsically configured and customised to maintain, support and launch special AH operations at short notice. IAF Stations across India are intrinsically configured and customised to maintain, support and launch special AH operations at short notice. Conclusion The phrase â€œI wantâ€ is natural for any senior military commander, especially when state-of-the-art weapons are being procured. But senior military commanders also have a sacred duty towards truthfully procuring weapons which will genuinely enhance Indiaâ€™s offensive and defensive capability. Those weapons cannot have severe limitations and be susceptible to unacceptable attrition. Unfortunately, the AH is one such weapon. Given our terrain and the innumerable anti-helicopter weaponry available with our adversaries, India has little use for the AH. 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 Indiaâ€™s safety and security. Most certainly, the Navy and Army must have their special air elements under their command and control. Inter-Service rivalry is rampant in all nations; the Indian Armed Forces cannot afford the luxury of creating duplicate parallel offensive air forces which cannot be force multipliers. Like the Hercules, the AH is ideally suited for very specialised tasks and naturally must be operated and maintained by the IAF which already has infrastructure and expertise to be the custodian and repository of Attack Helicopters. And finally, helicopters are very popular targets that attract immediate media attention leaving a deleterious impact on own forces and public at home. We may well be walking into a trap with fancy ideas of acquiring Attack Helicopters. And in the final analysis, it will turn out to be a lose â€“ lose situation if we do. Source:- http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/attack-helicopters-should-india-have-them/0/ If I made some mistake while copying the article,please inform me in this thread.