Army, Air Force discussing control of attack helicopters: Bipin Rawat

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Army, Air Force discussing control of attack helicopters: Army Chief General Bipin RawatNEW DELHI: The Indian Army is in a tussle with the Indian Air Force over who will control the attack helicopters, including the Apaches, which the army believes is better grouped with its strike formations.

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat here on Thursday said that the army is in discussions with the air force over who will control these helicopters. The development follows a similar tussle between the two services over the Apaches in the past.

While addressing the army’s annual press conference, Rawat, however, said that the two services are reaching a consensus on what will be role of the Apaches. While asserting that it is a “tank killer”, he added that it needs to be grouped with the army’s strike formations and will provide necessary support for mechanised (tanks, infantry combat vehicles) columns.

Rawat said that the air force will be getting the Apaches first. “We should expect them to come in by 2019 or 2020. Ours will follow through. We are tagging on behind the air force,” he said.

India spent $3 billion for 15 Chinook and 22 Apache helicopters for the IAF. The army will separately get six Apaches, through an “option clause” of the earlier deal.

“But, one issue we are addressing is who will finally control the attack helicopters. That is an issue which we are in consultation with the air force. I think we are gradually reaching a consensus as to what really is the role and charter for which we are inducting the Apaches. For me in the army and when i consult my staff we feel apache is a tank killer. Therefore it needs to support our strike formations,” he said.

“If you look at the terrain and the areas in which we have to operate, there are obstacles you have to cross, which will slow down your mechanised formations. And now if you have to go in faster, then you will need a third dimensional support to make sure that you are able to reach your objectives in a better time frame. We feel that the attack helicopters are necessary to be grouped with the strike formations,” he said.

Rawat said that the army is trying to explain to the IAF on how future battles will be fought. “Because if you are going to use the Apache, it is going to be in our support… Its for the mechanised formations. So whether you operate or we operate, we can take a call. There is some kind of understanding that is coming. But then they say what about countering the adversary’s helicopter, so for that also we have something,” he said.

There will also be “anti-helicopters”, said the army chief. The ALH-WSI (Advanced Light Helicopter-Weapon System Integrated), will have a missile for anti-helicopter missions.

Explaining the status of the armament of the ALH-WSI, said the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is making a rocket and a missile, which should soon be available for final testing. “While the missile and the rocket has been given to us for the testing…in some of the tests we have not met the standards which we had desired. So we told them that till they don’t meet those desired standards, there are safety issues, you continue with your research and we will continue with the trials. But have given them a definitive timeline to say in what time frame do you think this rocket and missile will be available to us,” he said.

“They have given us the time frame and we said if you don’t go as per that then there will be a gap and since we need these weapon systems we may have to go for limited import,” said Rawat, adding that by March the final timeline as to which the weapons can be introduced will be given.