Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel have begun their training in the United States (US) on the AH-64E Apache attack helicopters. The AH-64E Apache produced by Boeing, the leading aerospace and defence major of the US, is a twin-turboshaft engine attack helicopter with a tandem-seat cockpit for two crew members and a tail wheel-type landing gear. In July this year, the Ministry of Defence cleared a proposal for the procurement of six Apache attack helicopters for the Indian Army as well at a cost of 4,168 crore. The IAF will receive the most advanced version of the AH-64E Apache, officials said, adding that this will be its first fleet of American attack helicopters. These helicopters are set for delivery next year.
So far, the IAF has been operating the Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters that are of Russian origin. The Mi-25 fleet has already been retired from service and the Mi-35 will follow suit in not too distant a future. Currently, only two squadrons remain in service. Even though the government has decided that in the future, attack helicopters will be inducted into the Indian Army as well, this platform will continue to be relevant for the IAF. As such, as a replacement for the Mi-25 and to augment the fleet of Mi-35 till it remains in service, the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter produced by Boeing of the US, was selected in 2012 in a competition against the Russian attack helicopter Mi-28. Thus it was that in September 2015, Boeing was awarded a $1.4 billion contract to supply 22 of these helicopter gunships for the IAF.
The AH-64E Apache is the world’s most advanced, multi-role combat helicopter. It has the capability to operate in any kind of weather and can operate by night as well. It is currently in use by the armed forces of a large number of nations across the globe including those of the US. The US Army inducted the first AH-64A Apache into service in January 1984 and since then, the fleet has accumulated around five million flight hours. The first helicopter of the batch of 22 of this iconic combat platform ordered for the IAF, has completed its maiden test flight in the recent past. Delivery of this machine is expected to commence in March 2019 and all 22 on order are scheduled to be delivered to the IAF before the end of 2022. A noteworthy feature is that the fuselage of the Apache attack helicopter is now being made in India for the global market, by Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) located in Hyderabad.
The AH-64E Apache attack helicopter will come fitted with the highly advanced AN/APG-78 Longbow fire control radar that gives this platform a fearsome reputation for being able to sneak up on the targets, launch attacks from stand-off ranges with devastating precision and successfully counter threats from the ground while operating over enemy territory. Apart from the anti-tank laser-guided Hellfire precision strike missiles and a 30mm chin-mounted chain gun that is cued by the pilot’s helmet system, the Apache attack helicopters to be inducted into the IAF will also carry anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, a requirement specifically projected by the service. The cockpit of the Apache will be far more sophisticated than what IAF helicopters pilots would have seen in their service so far. The platform has large multi-function displays, sensor fusion over networked architecture with other aircraft and digitally shared graphics that enable the Apaches plugging into a system that has for long been dominated by Russian systems that have not achieved the sort of networked environment required in a modern battlefield.
The IAF is likely to deploy the Apache attack helicopters at the airbase in Pathankot on the Western border with Pakistan and in Jorhat in Assam on the Eastern front against China. Together with the Apache attack helicopters that are expected to be inducted into the Indian Army, the total fleet strength with the two services is expected to be around 60. While this new platform is undoubtedly an excellent choice and will meet the requirements of both political and military domains, one of the most challenging tasks before the IAF is to prepare the manpower required to operate and maintain the fleet for its optimum operational performance. To achieve this aim, the IAF has deputed to the US, a group of personnel consisting of a number of specially selected helicopter pilots, ground engineers and a fairly large number of technicians. The selected personnel are already undergoing professional training with the agencies responsible for the training of personnel of the US armed forces. The duration of training is specific for each discipline and varies from three months to a year. With thorough professional grounding in the US, this team of selected personnel will help establish a proper training facility in India to support the Apache fleet. This new combat platform to be inducted in the near future, will go a long way to enhance the operational capability of the IAF in the rotary wing segment deployed in offensive role. There is no doubt that this fleet is going to be a game-changers for the IAF.