Adopting a new model to enhance the serviceability of its helicopter fleet, the Army is creating heli-hubs for their maintenance in operational areas near the borders. The proposal to establish two such heli-hubs, one each in the Northern Command and the Eastern Command, has been approved by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
Last November, a group of 28 women — married to Army helicopter pilots and technicians — had written to the prime minister and the defence minister about the high accident rate of Army’s helicopter fleet. They claimed that 191 Army helicopters had crashed over the past two decades, killing 294 officers.
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The Army currently has around 300 helicopters in its fleet — 12 squadrons of obsolete Chetaks and Cheetahs, and six squadrons of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) manufactured Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter — which are sent to HAL, Bangalore for their advanced maintenance and upkeep.
This reduces the operational availability of helicopters, which are in high demand in the inaccessible mountainous areas like Jammu and Kashmir, and the Northeast. Besides, the Army uses its helicopters for provision of supplies, casualty evacuation and maintenance of isolated posts. Forward posts in Siachen are dependent on helicopters for their sustenance.
The establishment of these two heli-hubs will enhance the serviceability of the helicopter fleet by around 25 per cent, sources in the Defence Ministry told The Indian Express. These heli-hubs will be manned by specialists from HAL, Bangalore, along with Army’s own technical staff from the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
The heli-hub in Northern Command, to be located in the Jammu region, is scheduled to be operational next month, while the one in Eastern Command will start working by December.