In a move that is likely to raise hackles within the Indian Air Force (IAF), the government has decided to allow the Indian Army to acquire its own fleet of attack helicopters.
The decision comes days after IAF chief Air Marshal N A K Browne told reporters on October 5 that it was not possible to have "little air forces". Days later, on October 9, Defence Minister A K Antony, had termed the fight between the IAF and Army over the attack helicopters as a 'family problem'.
National Security Advisor Shiv Shanker Menon had to intervene on behalf of Defence Minister A K Antony in the three year row between the Air Force and the Army over who would own the attack helicopters.
After talking to both Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne and Army Chief General Bikram Singh this week, Mr Menon advised the Government that Army should own and operate the medium lift attack helicopters. The first batch of Apache helicopters to be bought from USA programme may go the Indian Army. Currently, India has two squadrons of attack helicopters, Mi-25 and Mi-35, which are maintained and manned by the Indian Air Force but under the operational control of the Indian Army.
The Indian Army has been for long making a case for having its own fleet of attack helicopters. The Army contends that having its own attack helicopters rather than depending on the IAF would give the land forces more power and reach in tactical situations.
It also argued that having its own attack helicopters is integral to the Cold Start Doctrine - designed to cut down the time taken to mobilise troops. Apart from the three strike Corps, Army has now designated its holding corps as the pivot which can launch offensive defence before strike corps take over. Concerned with enormous time taken to mobilise the strike corps after the 2001 terrorist strike on the Indian Parliament - after which India nearly went to war with Pakistan - the Army revised its deployment and operational plans.
The IAF, however, argues that using attack helicopters without the support of larger air assets like interceptor and attack aircraft would make the slow moving attack helicopters vulnerable. And to ensure that large aircraft are always available to support and sanitise airspace, the attack helicopters should be with the IAF. Also, the IAF contends land forces which are equipped with attack helicopters - like the US - fights wars differently than India.
The IAF had also contended that allowing the Army to own attack helicopter would lead to duplication of assets.
The proposal to arm the Indian Army with attack helicopters was mooted by the former controversial Chief of Army Staff V K Singh as a part of transformation of the Army into a more leaner, meaner and network-centric force. Four exercises held on the western front under Western and South Western Commands in 2011 and 2012 had brought out the need to have attack helicopters as an integral part of the assembled firepower. The proposal was shelved after the relation between the Government and Army Headquarters plummeted following the age row of General V K Singh.