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Four Mi-25 attack helicopters for Afghanistan: India’s bold move

As per agency reports, an Indian security official has confirmed that, “We are going to give them the helicopters, this is a one-off arrangement”.

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During the visit of Afghan National Security Advisor, Mohammad Hanif Atmar to Delhi later this week, it is expected that India will announce the transfer of four Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan. As per agency reports, an Indian security official has confirmed that, “We are going to give them the helicopters, this is a one-off arrangement”.

Afghanistan’s military has been in dire need of helicopters. Besides approaching India, Kabul had reportedly asked Russia directly for the same. Even earlier, US had purchased smaller helicopters from Russia for the Afghan air force but that was stopped after Moscow intervened in the Ukraine.

Afghanistan during President Hamid Karzai’s rule, sought military hardware from India but the deal did not go through during the UPA government. The equipment requested by the Afghan government in 2013 included tanks and artillery to boost land-based firepower; Kabul had asked for helicopters but these were for medical evacuation and not attack helicopters.

By agreeing to transfer attack helicopters now, India will send a strong signal of cooperating with Afghanistan in its fight against Taliban. The Since the Taliban leadership is based in Pakistan and Pakistan continues to support the Taliban leadership, it also sends out a strong message to Islamabad. Such a deal would need the tacit approval of the US, and because the equipment is of Russian origin, the transfer will have to be approved by Moscow. With so many countries coming together, notwithstanding the number and vintage of helicopters involved, the transfer assumes greater geo-strategic significance.

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Another indication of the significance of India’s decision to transfer the Mi-25 helicopters is the critical shortage of attack helicopters in its own inventory. India’s Mi-25 helicopters are the export version of the old Soviet Union’s Mi-24D helicopters and were inducted in the No. 125 Helicopter Unit of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in May 1984. They were deployed against the LTTE during the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka. Their usage during the Kargil War, however, brought out their limitations as the Mi-25 has a service ceiling of 14,500 feet.

Besides Mi-25, the IAF also has the Mi-35 attack helicopters which are the export version of Soviet Union’s Mi-24V helicopters. There are currently two units of Mi-25 and Mi-35 helicopters; they are army assets for use with Strike Corps although they are still manned, controlled and operated by the IAF.

Both the Mi-25 and Mi-35 helicopters are obsolete now and need replacements on priority. They will be replaced by the 22 Apache helicopters – PM Modi signed a deal for them with Boeing during his visit to the US in September. They will form part of the IAF inventory. The army has also asked for an additional 33 Apache helicopters for its three Strike Corps.

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The first Apache helicopter will be inducted in the IAF after two years. Once India transfers the four Mi-25s to Afghanistan, there will be a shortfall of attack helicopters for India’s strike corps operations till the Apaches are inducted and operationalised. That India is willing to leave that gap in its offensive military capabilities in order to help Afghanistan indicates the importance Delhi attaches to defeating terror in the neighbourhood.

First published on: 06-11-2015 at 18:26 IST
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