NEW DELHI : In a major boost to its tactical fighting capabilities, the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Tuesday added eight Apache helicopters, regarded as the most advanced multi-role heavy attack helicopters in the world, to its fleet. The induction ceremony took place at the Pathankot Air Force Station in Punjab.

The 125 Helicopter Squadron, known as the ‘Gladiators’, will have 22 Boeing-built Apaches, which will be stationed at Pathankot, close to the Pakistan border, and in Jorhat Air Force Station in Assam near the border with China.

The induction of the Apaches also marks a shift in India’s defence procurement, with the US supplying lethal military hardware to India—from the P8i maritime reconnaissance and C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and Chinook helicopters.

India signed a $1.1-billion deal for the Apaches with Boeing in September 2015 to replace Russian-built Mi-25 and Mi-35 helicopters.

“Alongside the capability to shoot fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missiles, air-to-air missiles, rockets and other ammunition, it also has modern EW (electronic warfare) capabilities to provide versatility to the helicopter in network-centric aerial warfare," Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa said at the induction ceremony. “These aircraft have been modified specifically to suit the exacting standards demanded by the IAF."

The Apaches arrived in India in July in batches of four and were then shifted to Pathankhot, Boeing India said in a statement. India is the 16th country to receive the Apache, the company said, adding that the helicopter was the advanced variant, the AH-64E Apache, which is also used by the US Army. Indian air and ground crew were trained at facilities in the US Army base, Fort Rucker, in Alabama before the helicopters were delivered. The Indian defence ministry is in the process of evaluating the acquisition of another six Apaches for the Indian Army, Boeing added.

Analysts said the Apache is a stealthy, versatile machine. It has a vertical rate of climb of over 2,000 feet per second and a maximum speed of 279km per hour, making it useful for swift deployment.

The helicopter’s front mounted guns can be used to attack terrorist hideouts in difficult mountain terrain. It’s “fire-and-forget" Hellfire missiles can destroy armoured carriers and tanks among enemy ranks and provides crucial protection for moving ground forces and tanks in the battle field.

The Apache’s rotor mounted radar can transmit battlefield pictures to Airborne Warning and Controls Systems (Awacs) mounted on other aircraft.

The Apache’s forward looking infra red radar can locate targets through dense foliage thanks to its heat-seeking capabilities that then provides pilots with pictures of the target. The helicopter is capable of flying “further, lower and faster" than other similar machines. Lower means that it cannot be picked up by radar, while literally skimming the earth.


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