Military & Aerospace

Army Aviation Corps: On the Wings of Transformation
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Issue Vol. 30.1 Jan-Mar 2015 | Date : 21 Feb , 2015

Specifications of the Helicopters

Medium Multi Role Helicopters

The helicopters of the future may not fit comfortably into the age-old specific categories of reconnaissance, attack, utility and cargo. Future helicopters would be multi-role, offering diverse capabilities, flexible options and significant cost savings. In order to fulfill the manifold tasks, the Indian Army also has evinced interest in the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) being developed by HAL and is keen to induct a large number of these helicopters into its Aviation wing in future.

The mission of the AAC is to find, fix and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver and to provide combat support…

By 2007, the procurement process had already has been “set into motion” for Tactical Battle Support helicopters. These types of helicopters are generally used for troop movement, offshore operations, heli-borne and amphibious assault operations, anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare operations. An armed gunship version is also expected to be developed concurrently. Other proposed variants include civil transport, VVIP transport and air ambulance. HAL has estimated that requirements for the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter will be more than 400 by the armed forces. HAL will also be targeting export orders since more than 5,000 Mi-8/17 variants are operational in more than 40 air forces around the world. Many of these are considering replacing them with newer generation helicopters.

As per sources, HAL has already done preliminary work on the design of the new 10 to 12 tonne helicopter which will be a larger version of the Dhruv. With a ceiling of around 20,000 feet and a 3,500-kg payload capacity, the IMRH will have the capacity to seat 24. Although there had been offers of joint ventures by two companies, these were scrapped as they did not match the requirements of the Indian armed forces. Thus, HAL is considering going it alone in development of the helicopter.

Heavy Lift Helicopters

Transport helicopters can accomplish what a fixed wing aircraft cannot. Heavy lift helicopters have the capability to carry a wide range of materials and troops into the battlefield. With the raising of a new Strike Corps in Arunachal Pradesh and the modernisation of the artillery, heavy lift helicopters are bound to be required by the Indian Army which is going to need its own fleet of heavy lift helicopters to induct men and machines where required. While the IAF is set to receive 15 heavy lift Chinook (CH-47F) helicopters, the Indian Army has requisitioned for its own heavy lift helicopters. The issue is under consideration at the MoD and the final decision is awaited.

CH-47F Chinook

The Chinook has served as the backbone of the US Army Air Corps since the Vietnam War. Boeing has delivered more than 1,200 Chinooks to 18 operators around the world since delivering the first to the US Army on August 16, 1962. More than 800 are in operation today in combat, cargo transport and humanitarian relief missions.

The Chinook can carry 55 fully armed troops or 11,100 kg of weight, inside or under-slung. The CH 47F is an all weather rotorcraft, capable of operating exceedingly well at high altitudes.

Neighbourhood Watch

Pakistan Army Aviation Corps

Our historic rival Pakistan has successfully utilised its Army attack helicopters against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as attack helicopters are best for such situation. Pakistan operates a fleet of Bell AH-1 Cobras. Having received its first ten AH-1S models in 1984, it was to receive another ten in 1986. Due to US sanctions resulting from Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, the option for the ten was never exercised. However, when US arms sales resumed in the late 1990s, new C-NITE sensors, 70 mm rockets and TOW missile launchers were delivered bringing Pakistani Cobras up to world-class standards. Additional ex-US Army AH-1Fs were received in the 2000s and Pakistan Army Aviation currently has 34 of the type in service, which has been used against the Taliban in the country’s remote Western region.

Analysts believe that by the year 2025, the Indian AAC which would be advanced in both in number and machine…

In the coming years, Pakistan wishes to replace its Cobra fleet with advanced AH-1Z Vipers. Today, Pakistan’s AAC comprises several attack and utility helicopters in its fleet including about seven to ten transport aircraft, 50 to 60 Cobra attack helicopters and about 250 to 300 utility helicopters. These assets have enhanced its troop transportation, observation and casualty evacuation capabilities with assistance of effective firepower. Since its inception, the Corps has become a significant combatant arm of the Pakistan Army, poised for a definite and critical role in peace or in war.

Chinese Army Aviation Corps

Separated from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Aviation Corps is well equipped with attack, transport and other specialised helicopters as well as light fixed-wing aircraft which carry out air maneuvers and provide support to ground operations. The PLA Army Aviation 1st Helicopter Regiment was founded in 1987, with a total of 55 helicopters. The regiment had four flight groups. The first and second flight groups were equipped with transport helicopters – 22 Mi-17 and eight Mi-17 V5. The third and fourth flight groups were equipped with attack helicopters – 25 Z-9WZ.

Since then, the PLA Army helicopter fleet has grown and is now double the size and strength of the Indian Army Aviation wing. According to statistics presented by defence news sites in China, the People’s Liberation Army Air Corps now has five helicopter brigades and five helicopter regiments, equipped with around 600 helicopters including 212 M-17 series, 70 Z-19 “Blackhawk”, 33 Z-8s, 269 Z-9s and 24 Z-10s and 12 Z-19 which are newly developed dedicated AH (reverse engineering of the Apache Attack Helicopter). The PLA also has sufficient number of fixed-wing transport aircraft which includes the Y-7, Y-8 and XTW4.

The mission of the AAC is to find, fix and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver and to provide combat support…

China, Pakistan and India established their air wings at almost the same time. However, it is felt that Pakistan Army’s Aviation Corps is quantitatively better developed than India’s whereas the PLA’s Aviation Corps is developed in both quantity and quality in contrast to the Indian Army’s Aviation Corps.


The mission of the AAC is to find, fix and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver and to provide combat support and combat service support in coordinated operations as an integral member of the combined arms team. On a modern battlefield, the AAC, unlike the other members of the combined arms team, has the organic flexibility, versatility, and assets to fulfill a variety of maneuvers like Combat Service (CS), Combat Service Support (CSS), surveillance, reconnaissance roles and functions. Aviation can accomplish each of these roles within the limits of finite assets and capabilities during offensive or defensive operations and also for joint, combined, contingency or Special Operations.

With more and more air elements being added to the inventory of land forces all over the world, the Tactical Battle Area will present an entirely different scenario in future warfare. Army Aviation has become one of the most important components in the changing nature and structure of armies all over the globe.

As the Indian Army prepares to induct and deploy armed helicopters in key formations alongside its borders with Pakistan and China, firepower and maneuverability should be closely integrated with support of ground operations to provide immediate help as and when required.  HAL has carried out commendable work in the field of helicopter design and development. As the third largest in the world today, the Indian Army does not possess adequate numbers of helicopters in its fleet. The AAC in the future would need to have more than 300 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft in its inventory. Indeed, its long-term plans include a flight of five fixed-wing aircraft each for its six regional or operational commands with a sufficient number of both small and large sized UAVs including the recently inducted IAI Heron and Searcher UAVs.

Analysts believe that by the year 2025, the Indian AAC which would be advanced in both in number and machine compared to its rivals, would be listed among the largest Army Air Corps in the world.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Shantanu K Bansal

Shantanu K Bansal, independent analyst covering the modernisation of the Indian Armed Forces and national security threats.

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