"The permission has been granted but with strict conditionalities. We cannot use rockets or the integral guns of the helicopters and we can retaliate only if fired upon," the source said on Thursday. "To this end, we have side-mounted machineguns on our choppers that are operated by our Garudas (IAF commandoes)," the source spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The IAF has positioned four medium-lift Mi-17 helicopters at Raipur for assisting the paramilitary and state police forces in their anti-Maoist operations.The Air Force has so far flown 635 sorties, ferried 4500 people in the Naxal-affected areas.
Commenting on the deployment of more helicopters for anti-Naxal operations, the source said the Air Force has also suggested the government that the 15-odd Mi-17s it has deployed on UN peacekeeping operations in the Congo be recalled.
"Once the numbers increase, then we will have to assess the situation. There are also safety aspects like the sanitisation of helipads," the source said. He also denied reports that an 80-hour limitation per machine per month had been placed on the four IAF helicopters. "In April the four helicopters deployed for anti-Maoists operation flew for 169 hours, in May 91 hours, in June 81 hours and in July, 89 hours," the source said.
The source, when asked about a separate air wing for the central paramilitary forces, said the issue is "complicated."