The air force has kickstarted the process of pulling out its attack and multi-utility helicopters deployed in United Nations missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.
The first batch of 25 helicopters (17 Mi-17 helicopters and eight Mi-35 and Mi-25 attack gunships) with the peace missions in Africa will be returning in October-end as part of a phased withdrawal of air force assets from UN missions.
The attack helicopters, used extensively to crush rebel militias, will arrive first and be deployed on the western front. Western Air Command chief Air Marshal N.A.K. Browne said, “The Mi-35s will get back to their home base in Suratgarh. The choppers will be refurbished and repainted in air force colours.”
The defence ministry had shot off a letter to the ministry of external affairs in June not to renew its commitment on the helicopters with the UN as the air force’s domestic requirements outweighed international imperatives.
Browne said, “Our resources have been stretched to the limit, particularly the helicopter fleet. The choppers have been deployed in the UN missions for the last six to seven years. The tasks assigned to the air force have gone up and we could put these assets to good use right here.”
Government sources have hinted that more Mi-17 helicopters may be pressed into service in Maoist-dominated areas, but Browne said the withdrawal from UN missions was not linked to an enhanced role in internal security duties.
The air force has assigned four Mi-17 helicopters for logistics support of the state and central police forces engaged in anti-Naxalite operations. The choppers are being used for ferrying security personnel, carrying out reconnaissance and casualty evacuation under an operation codenamed Op Triveni.