The Indian Air Force (IAF) wants the Border Security Force to take on a bigger and riskier role in the fight against Naxals.
It intends to pull its Mi-17 helicopters out of Naxal territory where they ferry security personnel, carry out reconnaissance and casualty evacuation, offloading the responsibility to the BSF’s air wing.
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.”
The air force has assigned four Russian Mi-17 helicopters for the logistics support of the state and central police forces engaged in anti-Naxal operations.
The helicopters have frequently drawn hostile fire, compelling the IAF to seek the government’s permission to shoot down Naxals in self-defence last year. The IAF’s unmanned aerial vehicles are flying surveillance patrols everyday to keep track of Naxal movement.
The BSF’s air wing consists of six Mi-17 helicopters. The choppers are being used for surveillance and transporting troops in Naxal-affected states. The air force considers the number to be adequate for supporting security forces fighting the Naxals.
“The serviceability of BSF helicopters has improved. The force is capable of facing the challenge on its own. This role was not envisaged when the air force bought these helicopters. We are sacrificing operational duties by diverting the Mi-17s,” the IAF officer said.
The BSF’s air wing chief, R. Khurana, refused to comment.
The air force says its resources are stretched thin. Seventeen of the IAF’s 200 Mi-17s are deployed in various UN peace missions.
The IAF is using armoured Mi-17 helicopters to transport security personnel in Maoist zones. The helicopters are armed with machine guns manned by the air force’s Garud commandos.
The IAF is not carrying out offensive operations against the Naxals.
“The main role of the armed forces is to defend against external aggression. We’d ideally not want to be sucked into internal security duties,” the officer added.