NEW DELHI: The IAF may be fuming but the Army is hell bent on acquiring its own air force, with even attack helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, in the coming years.
Holding that the impending acquisition of 197 light helicopters to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleets in the fledgling Army Aviation Corps (AAC) is just the beginning, defence ministry sources said Army had projected "concrete" requirements for the 11th (2007-2012), 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans.
While IAF will continue to have its "strategic role", the Army wants its own air force for "tactical" roles. As per plans, AAC wants to have a mix of reconnaissance, utility, tactical battle-support, armed and attack helicopters as well as tactical airlift fixed-wing aircraft.
IAF, of course, is aghast at all this. Senior IAF officers contend that "air assets" are "scarce resources" which should not be frittered away by a force (read Army) which lacks "air mindedness".
But the 1.13-million strong Army holds that IAF does not fully understand concepts like "close air support" for its troops on the battlefield, which incidentally led to bitter arguments between the two forces during the 1999 Kargil conflict.
The Army obviously wants "full command and control" over "tactical air assets" for rapid deployment as per its needs. The plan is to have aviation brigades "integral" to its six regional commands, with at least a squadron of utility helicopters with each of the 13 corps.
The three "strike" corps, the principle offensive formations of Army with HQs at Mathura (1 Corps), Ambala (2 Corps) and Bhopal (21), will get much more.
They will each have two squadrons of attack helicopters, one utility helicopter squadron and two reconnaissance and observation squadrons.
At present, the main focus is on the induction of the 197 light helicopters, which will be procured from a foreign manufacturer at a cost of over $600 million.
Primarily meant for operations in mountains and high-altitude areas like Siachen, 67 of these helicopters will be bought off-the-shelf, while the rest will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd under transfer of technology.
The Army is also looking for around 80 medium-lift utility helicopters like the Russian Mi-17V-5s, which can swiftly react and transport 20-25 fully-equipped soldiers to the combat zone.
Next on the list is progressive induction of the indigenously manufactured 'Dhruv' advanced light helicopters. The AAC already has three Dhruv squadrons, with three more planned for induction in the 11th Plan and the seventh one in the 12th Plan.
The AAC is also gearing up to induct "armed" Dhruvs, with the "weaponisation" of these helicopters already underway and the delivery target being set for 2009-2010.
The aim is to induct six such squadrons for anti-tank and close air support operations. Full-fledged "attack" helicopters, in turn, are planned for the 12th Plan to provide "dedicated support" to mechanised forces with tanks and infantry combat vehicles.