With Indian Air Force choppers tied up in United Nations peacekeeping roles, the government has floated a global tender on Wednesday to hire more than a dozen MI-17 all-weather choppers to ramp up air support for security forces engaged in anti-Naxal operations.
The armour-plated choppers — to minimise damage from firing — will be used for evacuating casualties, search and rescue operations, movement of armed troops and surveillance.
Central and state security forces have just half-a-dozen choppers deployed on anti-Naxal duties and have been seeking more aerial support.
The IAF had earlier made it clear that it would not be able to spare more choppers for anti-Naxal operations.
"Since the air force was falling short of choppers, we had received approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security to hire choppers on wet lease," a home ministry official said.
This means that the successful bidder would have to provide necessary crew, maintenance as well as insurance. The contract would be valid for a year in the first instance, extendable up to three years.
The home ministry will have the operational control of the helicopters.
The shortage of crew and spare-parts has been hampering the existing chopper-fleet run by the Border Security Force in anti-Naxal and other operations.
The government wants the choppers to be civil registered but has specifications of a military mould such as slithering facilities and armour plating.
The ministry has also insisted that the choppers have a minimum airlift capacity of 18-20 fully equipped personnel and fly to air destinations at least 400 km without refuel.
7 Maoists held
Security forces in Kanker district arrested seven Maoists including six women with arms and ammunitions on Wednesday. The police claim they were involved in killing five troopers including three BSF jawans last month. A joint search party of BSF and state police on arrested the seven from the forested area at Pakhanjur. HTC, Raipur