Tag Archives | attack helicopters

Indian helicopters back in UN Peacekeeping

Making sense of the decision

India withdrew last of its four Mi-35 attack helicopters from UN peacekeeping operations in July this year. While the official Indian explanation was a rather simplistic one, “The contract has ended”, the actual reason was the CAG’s observation on the state of Mi-35 helicopters in the Indian Army. CAG had particularly pointed to the diversion of these aviation assets to UN assignments despite the operational shortages with the Indian Army[See this blogpost].

While there has been a long-standing demand for more helicopters for anti-Maoist operations, the Indian Air Force hasn’t increased the number of helicopters deployed in support of paramilitary and police forces in Central and Eastern India [Read Bibhu Routray on the need of helicopters for anti-Maoist operations]. Union Home  Ministry has tried to meet this demand by wet-leasing six new Russia manufactured MI-17 choppers from a consortium of global helicopter operators — Global Vectra and UTair.

Now comes the news that India has again deployed six light utility Chetak (HAL-built Alouette III) and Cheetah (HAL-built Alouette II) helicopters to UN mission in Congo. This seems like a policy reversal by the Indian government but it isn’t so. These are not one-on-one replacements. Earlier, India had 17 helicopters in the Congo and Sudan, which included eight Mi-25/35 attack helicopters and nine Mi-17 transport helicopters. The six light utility helicopters deployed now, in contrast, are meant to undertake surveillance, observation, search and rescue, medical and reconnaissance flights.

This blog still stands by its long-held position that India should not be contributing so heavily to UN peacekeeping assignments [See this and this blogpost]. However, now that India has deployed these light utility helicopters, it should lay to rest the allegation that India’s decision to withdraw attack and transport helicopters last year was meant to snub the UN.

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Hell-o’-copters

Shocking revelations in the latest CAG report on Mi Series helicopters in the Indian Air Force.

While a lot of coverage in the media will be given to the CAG report pertaining to poor quality of rations for the army — as evident from this statement by the MoS for defence, Mr Pallam Raju — the real alarming story is in the CAG audit about the helicopters of the Indian Air Force. Chapter-1 of CAG Report No. 7 of 2010-11 pertains to the performance audit on Operation and Maintenance of Mi Series Helicopters in IAF (pdf here).

Here are the highlights of the findings of the report.

#1- There was a deficit of 26 per cent in the total availability of helicopters compared to the numbers required for achieving current operational projections. Categorywise shortfalls were most apparent in the case of attack helicopters where the holdings were 46 per cent below the actual requirement.(Paragraph 1.2.1.1)

#2- Despite availability of funds and a specific acquisition programme for the 10th Plan period, IAF was unable to induct even a single helicopter which has adversely affected maintenance of force levels and operational preparedness. (Paragraph 1.2.1.1)

#3- The existing fleet is ageing and nearly 78 per cent of the helicopters have already completed their prescribed life and Total Technical Life extension has been carried out on them elongating their life.(Paragraph 1.2.1.2)

#4- Serviceability levels were low and fell consistently short of the prescribed 75 per cent. Combined with high Aircraft-on-Ground levels, this was indicative of inefficiency in operations, low utilization of Mi series fleet and poor repair and maintenance activities.(Paragraph 1.2.1.4)

#5- Seven helicopters were modified for ‘VIP’ role without approval of the Government. Such modification also lacked justification as a separate specialized communication squadron with adequate helicopter for use by VIPs already existed. Modification of helicopters for VIP/OEP use affected availability of helicopters for operation purpose.(Paragraph 1.2.1.6)

#6- Manpower deployment was not rational with respect to norms fixed per helicopter as there was an overall shortage of pilots ranging from 12 to 27 per cent during 2003-07 while, at the same time, there was an excess of aircrew.(Paragraph 1.2.1.7)

#7- Achievement with regard to engine overhauls and repair in respect of Mi8 and Mi17 helicopters was considerably lower than the tasks fixed. This was due to shortage of spares which resulted from both delayed and inadequate provisioning for these spares. As a consequence, 210 engines were sent abroad for overhaul at a cost of Rs 68.49 crore.(Paragraph 1.2.2.1)

The complete chapter is worth a read. A scary and depressing read. For eg.,

Despite the fact that its own needs were not being met, IAF sent 25 helicopters abroad for participation in UN Missions, allocated another seven for VVIP use and diverted six Mi8 helicopters to the Cabinet Secretariat (Aviation Research Centre). As a result, over all availability was only 61 per cent.

And here is the concluding sentence of the chapter that should induce premature ageing in all well-meaning Indians:

The matter was referred to Ministry in October 2008; their reply was awaited as of February 2010.

Final thought. As fellow blogger Retributions always reminds us, we in India are always ready to pounce on an error of commission but are happy to completely ignore the errors of omission. An error of commission is one where the person responds — invariably with wrong intentions — where they should not. An error of omission, in comparison, is where the person fails to respond when they should.

One is just left wondering if there is any other robust modern democracy in the world which would allow its government and its defence minister to get away with such a criminal error of omission. Ponder.

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Withdraw helicopters on UN assignments first

If the IAF is feeling the pinch by deploying four MI-17 helicopters for providing logistics support to anti-Maoist operations, it must withdraw the 17 helicopters deployed on UN peacekeeping missions in Africa first.

Indian Air Force[IAF] wants to withdraw its helicopters deployed for providing logistics support to the state and central police forces engaged in anti-Maoist operations. Out of its inventory of 200 MI-17 helicopters, four helicopters are deployed for the anti-Maoist operations. The reason behind this proposal:

A top IAF officer told HT, “We are hamstrung by inadequate resources. We have diverted helicopters to support anti-Naxal operations at the cost of training and air maintenance operations. It’s about time that the BSF steps into our shoes.”[HT]

While it is understandable to expect the BSF Air Wing to shoulder the responsibilities of internal security operations, the top IAF officer is only proffering a part of the whole truth. Besides helicopters on training and air maintenance operations, IAF has also deployed seventeen MI-17 helicopters [and eight attack helicopters] in two UN peacekeeping missions, in Congo and Sudan. It defies all logic then for the IAF to press for withdrawal of helicopters deployed in the Maoist-affected areas before withdrawing those with the UN peacekeeping missions in far-away Africa. Somewhere along the way, the Indian defence services seem to have lost track of the fact that their own priorities must always remain subservient to the larger national interest.

And just for the record, IAF has had an under-recovery of Rs 205 crore from the UN for the reimbursement of the helicopters deployed with the UN assignments between July 2003 and March 2008. Because it agreed to provide helicopters to the UN at much lower rates than its own actual cost of operation per flying hour and then forgot to revise the rates for the next three to five years, despite having signed the agreement for only one year. [2.9-I, Pages 46-47 of CAG Report No. CA 18 of 2008-09 (pdf here)]

Of course, needless to say that this fits in snugly with our long-held view at the INI that India must stop contributing its resources for UN peacekeeping missions.

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