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.