In a significant boost to India’s combat capabilities, the Indian Air Force Tuesday formally inducted to its fleet eight latest-generation AH-64E(I) Apache attack helicopters. The helicopters, manufactured by Boeing, were part of a multi-billion dollar deal struck with the US government nearly four years ago, and were inducted at a function at the Pathankot Air Station.
Modified to specifically suit specific standards as demanded by the IAF, the Apaches not only add to its combat capability but also provide additional capabilities for operations in the plains of Punjab — the main theatre of all wars with Pakistan in the past. The first crew of the Apache helicopters was trained by Boeing along with the US Army.
“It is one of the most serious attack helicopters in the world,” said Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, chief guest at the occasion. “Alongside the capability to shoot fire and forget anti-tank guided missiles, rockets and other ammunition, the change that gets into the Indian Air Force is that it has air-to-air missile capability…for the first time in the history of the IAF,’’ he said.
Among the most lethal attack helicopters in the world, the Apaches are capable of fielding a variety of weapons systems including air to ground Hellfire missiles, 70 mm Hydra rockets and the air-to-air Stinger missiles, the Air Chief said, adding that they also carry one 30 mm chain gun with 1,200 rounds as part of area weapon sub system. It also comprises fire control radar, which has 360-degree coverage and a nose-mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems, he said.
The Apache helicopters will replace the ageing Mi-35 helicopters, which the IAF has been operating for the past three decades.
Capable of performing many operations, suppression of enemy air defence and battlefield strike roles, the Apache helicopters operate as a team, said Dhanoa, adding that the IAF, with their induction, has upgraded its inventory to the latest generation of attack helicopters. These have modern electronic warfare (EW) capabilities to provide versatility in a network-centric aerial warfare.
The IAF has signed a contract with Boeing and the US government for 22 Apache attack helicopters, the last batch of which will be delivered by March 2020.
This procurement will enhance the capability of the air force in providing integrated combat aviation cover to the Army strike corps, the IAF said in a statement. These tandem seating helicopters are day and night, all-weather capable and have high agility and survivability against battle damage, it said, adding that they are easily maintainable even in field conditions and are capable of prolonged operations in tropical desert regions.
Earlier, Boeing India president Salil Gupte handed over the key of the Apache attack helicopter to Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa. R Nambiyar, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief (AOC-in-C), Western Air Command, among other senior IAF officers were present on the occasion. One of the Apache helicopters which flew over the airbase was given a water cannon salute on landing.