Game Changers

The Apache will act as a tremendous force-multiplier and the Chinook has a history of high serviceability and would add significant airlift capability to the IAF

Issue: 9 / 2019By Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd)Photo(s): By Boeing, IAF
IAF formally inducted four of 15 Boeing Chinook CH-47F(I) heavy-lift helicopters On March 25, 2019.

In a major boost to its tactical operational capability, the Indian Air Force (IAF) inducted first eight of the most advanced multi-role attack helicopter, Apache AH-64 E(I) into 125 Helicopter Squadron on September 3, 2019 at Air Force Station, Pathankot. All 22 Boeing-built Apache will arrive by 2020. The second squadron will be based at Air Force Station Jorhat in Assam. They will replace the obsolete Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters. “Alongside the capability to shoot fireand-forget anti-tank guided missiles, air-to-air missiles, rockets and other ammunition, it also has modern EW (electronic warfare) capabilities to provide versatility to the helicopter in network-centric aerial warfare,” Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa said at the induction ceremony. “These aircraft have been modified specifically to suit the exacting standards demanded by the IAF.” Selected air and ground crew have undergone training in the US.

On March 25, 2019, IAF formally inducted at Air Force Station Chandigarh, four of the 15 Boeing Chinook CH-47F(I) heavy-lift helicopters ordered. The first Chinook helicopter had earlier arrived by ship on February 10, 2019, at the Mundra port in Gujarat. Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa hailed the induction, saying that it was a national asset and these will boost India’s security through increased vertical lift capability. The $1.5 billion Chinook contract included India specific enhancements. Eight helicopters have since arrived. The second unit of this heavy-lift platforms will be located at Dinjan (Assam). Chinook can deliver heavy payloads to high altitudes and is eminently suited for operations in the Himalayas. It will greatly enhance India’s capabilities across a range of military and HADR missions.

OPERATIONAL ROLES

Military transport helicopters are used to transport personnel and cargo in support of operations. The larger helicopters like Mi-26 can carry 90 troops or 20,000 kg cargo. The personnel and cargo can be picked and dropped at unprepared locations. These helicopters are also used for air assault to move assault force from assembly areas to landing zone or drop zones.

Attack helicopters, often referred to as ‘Gunships’ are designed with capability of engaging targets on the ground, such as armoured vehicles, enemy troops and vehicles. They can quickly provide direct and accurate close air support for ground forces. They could also attack static targets close to the Forward Edge of Battle Area such as radars. Attack helicopters could be used as escorts in heliborne operations or for Combat Search and Rescue and in the armed scout role. Armed with guns, rockets and air-to-ground missiles, attack helicopters are also capable of carrying air-to-air missiles. Attack helicopters are designed with narrow fuselage, tandem seating and high external visibility and have high manoeuvrability. They take on anti-tank, anti-helicopter, anti-UAV and close air support roles. Guns and important sensors are chin-mounted. Rockets and missiles are carried on stub wings. They are normally equipped with short-range radar and Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) sensors. They have laser rangefinder and laser target designator. Many gunships can also carry troops.

Observation helicopters are used to monitor the battle in Tactical Battle Area. The observation could be visual by the aircrew or using an optical sensor like low-light level television or FLIR camera. These helicopters also assist targeting by artillery fire and airstrikes. They can also do laser illumination for laserguided bombs and other weapons fired by mother or other armed aircraft.

BOEING AH-64 APACHE

Apache AH-64E is a stealthy, versatile machine, designed for all kinds of missions. It comes equipped with laser and infrared systems for day-night operations. Apache has a twin turboshaft engine with a tail wheel-type landing gear, and a tandem two-crew cockpit. It has a nose-mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems. It is armed with a 30mm M230 chain gun and has four hard-points on stub-wing pylons for armament and stores. Typically, it can carry a mixture of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 rocket pods. The AH-64 has systems redundancy to improve combat survivability. The helicopter was inducted into US Army in April 1986. The first production AH-64D Apache Longbow, an upgraded Apache variant, was delivered to the US Army in March 1997. Over 2,000 AH-64s have been produced.

IAF inducted eight of 22 Boeing Apache AH-64E gunships on September 3, 2019.

Attack helicopters are designed with capability of engaging targets on the ground such as armoured vehicles, enemy troops and vehicles

The crew compartment has shielding between the cockpits, such that at least one crew member can survive hits. The compartment and the rotor blades are designed to sustain hit from 23mm rounds. The airframe has armour protection and has self-sealing fuel system. Apache has a maximum service ceiling of 6,400 m and maximum speed of 365 kmph. It has state-of-the-art integrated avionics. It is equipped with the Ground Fire Acquisition System which detects and targets ground-based weapons fire sources. High-resolution colour imagery is provided to the crew. It can carry the Stinger air-to-air missiles, the AGM-122 Sidearm anti-radiation missile and the MBDA Brimstone anti-armour missile. The AH-64E Apache has the ability to control UAVs, to perform aerial scouting missions. Boeing has suggested that the AH-64 could be fitted with a directed energy weapon initially designed to engage small UAVs. The updated Longbow mast-mounted AESA radar has an over sea capacity, potentially enabling naval strikes. Apaches have been deployment in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

BOEING CH-47F(I) CHINOOK

Chinook is a twin-engine, tandem rotor, heavy-lift helicopter that first flew in 1962. The Chinook possesses several means of loading cargo including multiple doors across the fuselage, a wide loading ramp located at the rear of the fuselage and a total of three external ventral cargo hooks to carry under-slung loads. Its top speed is 315 kmph. IAF variant has upgraded engines, composite rotor blades, a redesigned cockpit, modern avionics, advanced digital flight control system and lower maintenance requirements. Maximum payload is 10,886 kg or 55 troops and maximum range is 740 km. Its maximum flight altitude is 6,100 m. Aircraft has taken part in most major operations since Vietnam War. The helicopters will greatly support, inter valley transfer operations, air maintenance of forward troops and also HADR missions.

FORMIDABLE CAPABILITY

And the Indian Armed Forces will soon have formidable attack helicopter capability for counter-air, interdiction at varying depths inside enemy territory, combat SAR, etc. in furtherance of both air and ground battles. Apache will act as a tremendous force-multiplier at the point of decision, when required. The Chinook has a history of high serviceability and would add significant airlift capability. Rotary-wing fleet will continue to remain a significant fleet both in war and peace.