Home Future Wars Require Strong Army Aviation

Future Wars Require Strong Army Aviation

The Raksha Mantri, while speaking at a seminar organised by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies last year, said that the government was aware of the pace of military modernisation by countries in the neighbourhood and stressed the point that modernisation and transformation of India’s conventional forces must focus on capabilities to enable reacting on a real time basis. This then must lie at the heart of India’s war preparedness for future conflict. Later, last month in December, in another seminar organised by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies to commemorate India’s greatest victory in 1971, a key lesson of the war which emerged was the need to apply all elements of combat power in the limited time available to achieve decisive results before conflict termination takes place.

That future wars will be short and intense is well accepted by the military. Geostrategic factors and the reality that conflict will take place in a nuclear environment points to wars of limited duration in which all elements of combat power must be optimally used to achieve decisive results. The fluidity of operations in the tactical battle area demands quick decision making and swift deployment and utility of response resources. Failure to do so will lead to sub optimal utilisation of combat resources and missing out on fleeting opportunities which such conflicts bring about. This could well lead to stalemate rather than outright victory and in some cases even to suffering disproportionate losses in battle. Two key elements for achieving decision in the close battle are firepower and manoeuvre.

Exploiting the third dimension through the rotary wing is essential to achieving quick success in the tactical battle area as it is both an element of manoeuvre and a deliverer of firepower. Integration of all resources within the tactical battle area is thus critical to achieving battlefield success. In high intensity battle, dual command and control of resources is undesirable and could have potential adverse consequences. While the land based resources are integrated in a single command, attack and utility helicopters which are part of army resources in all modern armies in the West and also in the armies of Pakistan and China are still being maintained exclusively as Air Force assets in the Indian military. While the Air Force may continue to have helicopters based on its role, the Army must have its aviation units equipped with attack and utility helicopters in addition to the helicopters used for reconnaissance which it currently holds. They must be further be organised into aviation brigades at the Corps level to fight the close battle, both in defensive and offensive operations. 

Why is it necessary for the army to have its own aviation brigades? Is it simply a matter of expansion and getting into the turf of a sister service? The answer is an emphatic No. The concept of fighting modern wars revolves around the all arms combat team concept wherein all infantry, artillery and mechanised forces resources are placed along with all operational and logistic support elements under one commander. In modern wars, the rotary wing is part of this combat team concept. All troops have to not only live and train together, but must have complete understanding of each other’s strength and capabilities and a total comprehension and knowledge of ground warfare. This is what is being done by US and NATO forces currently engaged in Afghanistan and earlier in Iraq. The Pakistan Army has already integrated its attack and utility helicopters as part of its army aviation and so has the Chinese Army. India cannot afford to be lax on this score. Fluidity of the battlefield imposes exceptionally heavy demands on the Force wherein change in battlefield tasks will occur in an ongoing battle. Such tasks will be impossible to execute unless the Indian Army’s aviation corps is equipped with attack and utility helicopters.  We cannot afford to fail on this count.
There is a fear in some quarters that the growth of army aviation would be at the cost of air force assets. There is however no basis for such an apprehension. All professional armies of the world have their own fully equipped aviation arms, because even the best air forces have severe limitations in carrying out many operational tasks which are intimately concerned with the land battle, especially in the tactical battle area. The report by the Kargil Review Committee was specific on this point and recommended that Army Aviation have its own attack and utility helicopters for the close battle. While our Air Force is highly professional and competent in performing its well-defined strategic role, it should not be asked to do what the Army is supposed to. The Air Force is a strategic asset, best employed in depth areas.

Army aviation being equipped with attack and utility helicopters is thus not at the expense of the Air Force which has a major role to play in suppressing enemy air capability, causing attrition to and preventing the movement of his strategic reserves, destroying his communication infrastructure and command and control facilities among other strategic tasks. But certain operational and logistics tasks are best performed by integral resources of the Army because of the intimate nature of support and the need for immediate application of aviation assets. It is not possible for air forces to carry out such tasks, however efficient they may be. Conflicts in various parts of the world have further reinforced this, as it is only integral aviation resources that would provide the field force commander real-time battlefield flexibility and consequent enhancement in combat power.

The Indian Army must be given the capabilities currently available to the Western Armies and, more importantly, to both Pakistan and China. As stated by India’s Army Chief, ‘Army Aviation is the arm of the future and must be appropriately equipped’. We cannot afford to tarry any longer on this score. We are already a couple of decades late.

Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch (Retd) is Additional Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

Courtesy: The Indian Express, 15 January 2012

Previous ArticleNext Article
Brig (Retd) Rahul Bhonsle
I think Gen Katoch has brought out a very relevant issue. We need to look at Attack Heptrs as a maneouvre rather than a fire power asset. In that context how do we see synergy on the tactical battlefield? A joint study by the Army and Air Force of Iraq 2003 (unless it is already done and lying in the docks) where attack heptrs were used as a maneouvre arm may clearly highlight this aspect and bring clarity as to which arm should hold it, perhaps CLAWS and CAPS should get together on this to give this more weightage
Col Anil Kaul, VrC
Having been one of the few armoured corps officers who has seen combat after 1971, though not in the classic sense of mech warfare, I have always felt and hence advocated the necesscity of making armd heptrs as part & under command of a combat GROUP commander. Please note that there application in any future scenario will be at this level and not above. In simpler words it would be a fourth manouevering force acting in conjunction with the three combat teams of the combat group. It would also ease the application of SP Arty fire in such a context making it a very holistic battle. Gen Katoch has done great service by mooting this idea and it is for the current leadership in South Block & Vayu Sena Bhawan to overcome petty parochialisms and accept this imperative need of the future for us though in practice by others for very long ago
sanjay sangwan
At a transformational time in history of modern India when we aspire to be a global player amidst stiff competition, the key to achieving our national objectives lies in capabilities and security. Any scenario building will indicate the criticality of synergised military with response capabilities to deal with rapidly changing situations over a larger canvas in space and wide spectrum of war but with severe time constraints. Time has come to forego turf seclusion for the larger national good.
Gen Daulta
Dear General,

I agree with you that AH units should be an integral part of the Army fmns. procedures to handle this arm of mvre at present are cumbersome. they are made to sound good in presentations but at implementation stage there are a number of difficulties- resulting in it`s not being available when at where required. Fleeting opportunity would not be exploited and result in non utilisation of an important arm - one of the reasons why we got them. It`s not a case of empire building but a necessity. maybe when this vital asset is de-facto `left out of battle` in next war we would have learnt a lesson ( and forgotten as in case of many such lessons!) .
Sagar Chowdhury
The recent, rather acrimonious debate between the Army and the Air Force over rotary wing aviation assests reminds me of a similar debate that happened as a result of the Key West Agreement in 1948. The agreement stated that the United States Air Force would be the primary controller of these assests rather than the US Army. When the Army did try to implement the doctrine of an Air Cavalry in the 1950's, it was met with much the same scorn and hostility by the USAF.So there is a fair amount of deja vu in this stand off. I do not dispute the fact that the Army needs operational control over aviation assets. However it must come with the education of senior commaders from a non-aviation background on the proper employment of these assets.The environments that we will be using this capability the most would be deserts and mountains. While deserts would be a relatively straight forward environment to operate in, mountaneous terrains can pose a serious challenge. The Americans found this out the hard way in 2002 in their operations in the Shahikot Valley in Afghanistan, where their air assests including the much vaunted AH64 Apache took considerable damage from low tech 12.7mm DSHk machine gun empacements.I can only hope that we would not have to learn all the lessons first hand!!
Harpal S Gill
Gen Dhruv Katoch has written on a very important and contemporary issue. As the Army Aviation Corps prepares to celebrate its Silver Jubilee this year,it is the right time to evaluate its exceptional performance in various operations over varied terrain in past 25 years and to make it more battle effective in the future by enhancing its combat potential.
The Indian Army,world's 3rd largest standing Army, definitely needs combat air power and assets under its exclusive operational command.The army needs to keep pace with future technology driven short -intense battles.
We must learn from US experience in Iraq war and its counter insurgency operations in Af-Pak region.
The creation of Aviation Brigade for Indian Army is the need of the hour.The government policy on holding of equipment profile of Army should be changed;(if required)to enable this. The resultant combined air power of Indian Defence Forces should be synergised to ensure total air superiority in the battle; both at Strategic as well as Tactical level.
More Articles by Maj Gen D...
Anti Naxal Operations: Initiative must b
# 1298 December 07, 2014
Chattergam Firing: Look Beyond the Incid
# 1283 November 11, 2014
J&K Floods: Lessons for the Future
# 1277 October 30, 2014
Floods in J&K: Need to Introspect
# 1254 September 15, 2014
  • Surprise, Strategy and 'Vijay': 20 Years of Kargil and Beyond
    Price Rs.930
    View Detail
  • Space Security : Emerging Technologies and Trends
    By Puneet Bhalla
    Price Rs.980
    View Detail
  • Securing India's Borders: Challenge and Policy Options
    By Gautam Das
    Price Rs.
    View Detail
  • China, Japan, and Senkaku Islands: Conflict in the East China Sea Amid an American Shadow
    By Dr Monika Chansoria
    Price Rs.980
    View Detail
  • Increasing Efficiency in Defence Acquisitions in the Army: Training, Staffing and Organisational Initiatives
    By Ganapathy Vanchinathan
    Price Rs.340
    View Detail
  • In Quest of Freedom : The War of 1971
    By Maj Gen Ian Cardozo
    Price Rs.399
    View Detail
  • Changing Demographics in India's Northeast and Its Impact on Security
    By Ashwani Gupta
    Price Rs.Rs.340
    View Detail
  • Creating Best Value Options in Defence Procurement
    By Sanjay Sethi
    Price Rs.Rs.480
    View Detail
  • Brave Men of War: Tales of Valour 1965
    By Lt Col Rohit Agarwal (Retd)
    Price Rs.320
    View Detail
  • 1965 Turning The Tide; How India Won The War
    By Nitin A Gokhale
    Price Rs.320
    View Detail