Eight United States-made Apache stealth attack helicopters, capable of firing missiles and rockets, were inducted into the Indian Air Force on Tuesday, significantly boosting the force's combat capability at a time India faces complex security challenges including cross border terrorism.
The eight helicopters, manufactured by aerospace major Boeing, were part of a multi-billion dollar deal India struck with the US government for 22 Apache AH-64E choppers nearly four years ago.
In a brief address after induction of the fleet, Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa said procurement of choppers with latest technology is a "significant step" towards modernisation of the IAF.
"The Apache helicopters will enhance the operational capabilities of the IAF," he said at strategically located air-base in Pathankot and added that the fleet will be deployed in India's western region.
"These Apaches have been modified to suit the exacting standards demanded by the IAF... Alongside the capability to shoot fire and forget anti-tank missiles, it has air-to-air missiles, rockets and other ammunition, and it also has modern electronic warfare capabilities to provide versatility to the helicopter," Dhanoa said.
"These attack helicopters will enhance the operation capabilities of the IAF as the strike force," the IAF chief said.
The AH-64E Apache is one of the world's most advanced multi-role combat helicopters and is flown by the US Army. The choppers are customised to suit IAF's future requirements.
The helicopter is capable of delivering a variety of weapons, including air to ground Hellfire missiles, 70 mm Hydra rockets and air to air stinger missiles, officials said.
To add to its lethality, the helicopter carries a fire control radar, which has 360-degree coverage and a nose mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems, they said. The chopper also carries one 30 mm chain gun with 1,200 rounds.
Alongside the capability to shoot fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missiles, air to air missiles, rockets and other ammunition, the helicopter also has modern electronic warfare capabilities to provide versatility in a network centric aerial warfare.
The induction of the Apache fleet came over six months after India carried out an air strike deep inside Balakot in Pakistan, and amid demands by the IAF to further bolster its combat capabilities to deal effectively deal with any external security threat.
The Apaches also have a fully integrated digital cockpit which enhances its mission performance. It is uniquely suited for reconnaissance, security, peacekeeping operations, and lethal attack across myriad environments without reconfiguration.
In a statement, Boeing said India is the 16th nation to procure the Apache, and that it is receiving the most advanced variant of the chopper.
"Boeing is committed to supporting the modernisation requirements of the Indian armed forces and maintaining them to be mission-ready," said Salil Gupte, president of Boeing India.
"We are confident that the Apaches will be an indispensable asset to the Indian Air Force. We will continue our efforts to deliver advanced capabilities to India's defence forces," added Gupte.
The IAF chief said the Apache helicopters will replace the ageing Mi-35 fleet of the IAF and the last batch of the choppers will be delivered by March 2020.
WATCH: Apache choppers receive water cannon salute
"This procurement will enhance the capability of IAF in providing integrated combat aviation cover to the army strike corps. These tandem seating helicopters are day and night and all weather capable and have high agility and survivability against battle damage," said an IAF spokesperson.
He said the Apaches are easily maintainable even in field conditions and are capable of prolonged operations in tropical and desert regions.
Dhanoa, in his address during the induction ceremony, described Apache as "one of the most fierce attack helicopters in the world".
"They have been part of numerous historic campaigns worldwide...Apaches are capable of performing many missions like in heli-borne operations, suppression of enemy air defence and battlefield air strike roles," he said.
The IAF had signed a multi-billion dollar contract with the US government and Boeing Ltd in September 2015 for 22 Apache helicopters.
Additionally, the Defence Ministry in 2017 approved the procurement of six Apache helicopters along with weapons systems from Boeing at a cost of Rs 4,168 crore for the Army. This will be its first fleet of attack choppers.
Boeing has delivered more than 2,200 Apaches to customers around the world since the aircraft entered production.
"By 2020, the IAF will operate a fleet of 22 Apaches, and these first deliveries are ahead of schedule," the company said.
The aerospace major said the AH-64E has the latest technology insertions, maintaining its standing as the world's best attack helicopter.
The AH-64E Apache for the IAF completed successful first flights in July 2018. The first batch of Indian Air Force crew began their training to fly the Apache in the US in 2018.
The eight Apache choppers arrived in India in July.
The official induction was marked by the Boeing India president handing over the ceremonial key to the IAF chief, who in turn gave it to Grp Capt M Shylu, commanding officer of the Gladiators.