The Union defence ministry after plenty of deliberations has finally decided to hand over control and operation of attack helicopters to the army, notwithstanding the stiff opposition from the Indian Air Force. This would mean that all future attack helicopters would be with the army and its aviation corps would operate, pilot and also maintain the attack choppers.
The tussle between the two Services over the issue had come out in the open when IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne said the country cannot afford to have these "little air forces" doing their own things.
Air Marshal (retd) B K Pandey (PVSM) explains to Rediff.com that this is something the army cannot be faulted with for having asked for control over the attack choppers.
"One must also understand the army's point of view. The idea of the army is that whenever they carry out an operation on the ground they would need intimate air support. The army feels that if the control is with the Indian Air Force the response time would suffer," he says.
"The decision of the government to hand over control of attack choppers to the army was made sometime back. When the army had procured the light combat choppers from the HAL it was pretty clear that the government was handing over some control to the army," he says.
"I do not fault the army's demand for control over attack choppers. An operation undertaken by the army would need to be carried out to precision. With their own air support, they feel that the coordination and the response time would be better. Prior to this they had to wait for a clearance from the IAF and all this led to a certain amount of delay," Air Marshal Pandey points out.
"However, this decision should not been seen as if the air force is losing all control. Out of the 22 Apaches, a certain amount of choppers would remain with the air force. Also one should not think that the air force would become defunct after this decision. The air force would continue to do its work such as precision attacks, destruction of radar installations and also striking at terrorist camps. The army would only have a direct control over choppers during a ground operation".
"This should also not be seen as a shocking decision. In the past too the air force has handed over control of its aircrafts. They have handed over their reconnaissance aircrafts to the Indian Navy. The navy today is also getting the P8 I which again would be under their control. Also the IAF had handed over choppers such as the Chetak and the Cheetah to the army."
"This in my view would be a step in this sequential development of events that have been taking place. The government of India did find the demand by the army as a legitimate one and hence handed over control of the attack choppers to the army," he notes.
"Now with regard to the ego clashes, I would like to say that there will be many. But it will not come in the way of an operation. Such major decisions cannot be taken based on ego clashes and the government has studied the issue carefully before taking such a decision. There is an objective view that needs to be taken in such matters of national interest. However, the army must not treat this as a victory over the air force. It is merely the acceptance of ground reality," he points out.
"In any major war it will be the air force which will commence action. The first step in a war would be to neutralise the air power of the opponent. Although we debate the lack of air power being used in the 1962 war and also the hesitation to use the air force during Kargil, today everyone knows that air power will commence operations during a war. There cannot be any hesitation in using air power during future wars. Hence, let us not make this into an ego battle. It is an acceptance of the ground reality and the importance of each wing of the armed forces remains intact," Air Marshal Pandey notes.
Image: A HAL Light Combat Helicopter