The IAF helicopters currently serving in UN missions in Congo and Sudan will return to India beginning this month-end, primarily to augment the transport fleet and in support of the Army in desert terrains along the borders with Pakistan.
"The IAF helicopters in United Nations mission will be coming back by end of October," Western Air Command Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Air Marshal N A K Browne told a press conference.
On an IAF proposal citing its helicopter fleet being stretched to its limits, the Defence Ministry wrote to the External Affairs Ministry in June this year that the 17 Mi-17 medium lift helicopter, eight Mi-35 and Mi-25 attack in the UN missions in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan should be de-inducted and brought back for internal security duties.
While the Mi-17s are likely to augment the transport fleet of the IAF in view of four such helicopters busy serving in logistics role in the country's anti-Naxal operations in central India, the attack helicopters would be used to provide support roles to the Army troops deployed in the deserts of Rajasthan along the Indo-Pak borders.
"The Mi-35s will get back to Suratgarh, its home base. These will be refurbished and re-painted (in IAF colours). Gradually there will be a build of the fleet in the Suratgarh unit," Browne said.
Suratgarh will also become home for a Mi-17IV unit in May-June next year, as part of the IAF's plans to strengthen the transport helicopter fleet in the deserts, he added.
Mi-17IVs will also be based in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir following the Suratgarh deployment.
"Our resources have been stretched to the limit, particularly the helicopter fleet. For six to seven years, they have been deployed in the UN peace-keeping missions. They have taken a huge amount of workload over the years. So the Air Maintenance headquarters felt we should get these back in time and use them within India itself," Browne said on the justification for recalling the helicopters from Congo and Sudan.
He clarified that the attack helicopters, got back from UN, would not be used in the anti-Naxal operations. "These attack helicopters are not for use in the anti-Naxal operations. No," he replied to a query in this regard, pointing out that these helicopters would be used only for supporting the troops in deserts.
Browne said the attack helicopter's task had increased within India and there was "tremendous amount" of need to get more more helicopters for use by the IAF internally.
He said the 80 Mi-17 helicopters being bought from Russia was for supplementing the air force's transport tasks and in aid of civilian authorities for flood relief and casualty evacuation.