Long sought by the depleted Indian Air Force, Apache attack and Chinook heavy lift helicopters seem set to punch in through the opening created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rafale breakthrough. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has sought the mandatory finance ministry approval for purchase of 22 Boeing Apache attack helicopters from the US as a prelude to moving the Cabinet Committee on Security. The $2 billion purchase has been hanging fire since 2009 with the US defence major offering its 11th extension on price till June 30, 2015.
South Block officials said that Parrikar has also directed defence finance officials to fast-track the acquisition of 15 Chinook heavy helicopters from the US or record their reservations, if any, for the CCS to take a final view. “Acquisition cannot remained mired in red tape. If the officials have any concerns, they should record it on file so that the political leadership can take a decision on either to concur with their view or reject it. Sitting on the file is not an option,” said a senior South Block official. Manufactured by Boeing, the Chinook deal is worth around $1.1 billion and has been in limbo as long as the Apache.
The Apache qualified in the attack helicopter category as the other contender did not meet the specifications, Chinook qualified for the heavy copter tender as the lowest bidder on grounds of landed price, fuel efficiency and maintenance for 10 years after beating the Russia-made Mi-26 in 2012.
The IAF has only two squadrons of the roughly 25 years old Mi-35 attack helicopters, it has only three Mi-26 heavy lift helicopters with low serviceability. The IAF desperately requires attack helicopters like Apache to counter any aggression from the west and needs rapid deployment capability along the 3,488-km mountainous Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. Boeing has offered India 15 Chinooks (CH-47F) with the option of purchase of seven more of the twin rotor helicopters that can carry 55 combat-ready troops or up to 11,000 kg of cargo.
In case of the Apache, Boeing has offered 22 platforms with the option of buying another 11 through both government-to-government and direct commercial sales route. The US manufacturer has offered state-of-the-art Longbow radar with Hellfire fire-and-forget all-weather missiles, Stinger missiles and rockets. Both helicopters use top-of-the-line technology and have been battle-proven in the Afghanistan and Iraq theatres.