Army Today

Force Multiplier


By Colonel V S Guleria © Sainik Samachar - Vol.49, No.2, 16-31 Jan 2002

The advent of airpower in the 20th century revolutionised warfare by adding a third dimension to the battlefield on land and in sea. The advancement in new and improved weapon systems gave rise to associated equipment, organisation and tactics. The increased ranges and lethality of field artillery weapons needed better land-based observation posts manned by trained artillery officers. Thus came into being the Air Observation Posts in which artillery officers flew small and highly manoeuvrable aircraft and began directing long-range medium artillery to fire accurately at targets beyond the observation limit of ground-based artillery observers. Air Observation Post Flights (Air OP-Flights) were Air Force units manned and maintained by Air Force personnel except for pilots who were artillery officers. The primary role of these Air OP flights was to act as 'Eyes of the Artillery' and engage targets in depth which were not visible to ground observers. The Air OP organisation, over the years, evolved from a humble Auster aircraft force to a large all-helicopter fleet. The men and machines, of the Army Aviation Corps, have done yeoman service during the two major wars and innumerable missions of mercy in peace time for which they have earned accolades far out of proportion to their small numbers. The inventory boasts of two Maha Vir Chakra, one Uttam Yudh Seva Medal, 16 Vir Chakra, three Ati Vishisht Seva Medals, 11 Shaurya Chakra, five Yudh Seva Medals, one Bar to Sena Medal, 54 Sena Medals, eight Vayu Sena Medals, 19 Vishisht Seva Medals, 45 Mention-in-Despatches, 154 Chief of Army Staff Commendation Cards and a number of Chief of Air Staff Commendation Cards.

This fledgling arm of the Indian Army is headed by an Additional Director General of the rank of Major General at the Army HQ. The pilots for Army Aviation Corps are being drawn from all arms. In more recent times, conflicts in various parts of the world, Vietnam and Gulf War in particular, made it clear that integral aviation resources would provide the field force commander real time battlefield flexibility and enhancement in combat power. The third dimension would be within the planning ambit of the field commander. The operational diversities of the Indian Army, coupled with variety of terrain, accelerated the acceptance of the concept of Army Aviation Corps as a lethal force-multiplier. The Indian Army's extensive deployment in mountainous and high altitude terrain, over the crest line observation for reconnaissance by field commanders, direction of artillery fire and speedy move of commanders to the forward posts which are difficult to access, make availability of helicopters a necessity. Speedy CASEVAC (Casualty Evacuation) from inaccessible areas, both in war and peace conditions, needed rotary wing effort close by and on call. Hence, a need was felt for a dedicated aviation effort for every Infantry / Mountain Division. Gradually after the Indo-Pak War in 1971, the Indian Army started becoming increasingly mechanised for warfare in plains and desert terrain. Integration of the third dimension with mechanised forces was the order of the day, world over. Mobile warfare enforced the need for a third dimensional weapon platform like the helicopter.

Hence, the Army Aviation Corps inducted officers from other combat arms, including artillery officers, to form a composite third dimensional force for an integrated battle. Attack helicopters have now become part of the mechanised warfare for operating closely with the ground formations in the thick of a battle. The logistic support for far-flung Army posts in inaccessible high altitude terrain, where air-dropping by heavy fixed-wing aircraft previously was expensive and wasteful, opened the need for one to two tonne capacity utility helicopters which could lift loads from forward logistic areas at road-heads or helipads accessible to heavy utility helicopters. The conversion of the erstwhile Air OP units with the Indian Air Force (IAF) into a total olive green aviation force opened new vistas of tactical involvement and battle utilisation. Many other roles got added to the primary task of providing observation for artillery fire, making the Army Aviation Corps a very versatile and formidable force. The Corps is now poised to act as an effective combat arm with the planned acquisition of attack, utility, reconnaissance & surveillance helicopters and even fixed-wing aircraft. The expansion of the Indian Army considerably increased the utilisation spectrum of small helicopters.

In 1984, the Indian Army's Northern Command inducted the HAL Cheetah into the Siachen Glacier. Helicopters landed in an area where perhaps Eagles fear to tread. The vagaries of nature coupled with the awesomeness of glaciated heights launched our aviators on to the course of helicopter pioneering, unheard of in the annals of aviation anywhere in the world. The daredevil pilots were put to the ultimate test professionally and also in terms of human endurance. The Army Aviation Corps operated its helicopters carrying men and material in the highest battlefield of the world, culminating in the conquest of the entire 72 km of the Siachen Glacier. Innumerable skirmishes and confrontations are taking place in the ongoing operations in the Siachen Glacier and the Army Aviation Corps is providing the required support for sustenance of our troops. The Sri Lanka operations saw full-fledged jungle warfare application of the army's aviation resources in extremely hostile conditions. The Corps won laurels for its daring performance in the face of all odds. The Corps has also been operating in the jungle, mountain and riverine terrains of India since long.

A unit of the Army Aviation Corps had the unique distinction of operating in Somalia, as part of UNOSOM-II (United Nations Operation in Somalia-II), from October 1993 to November 1994. During these operations, the flight flew over 2000 hours without any accident and maintained 100% serviceability in an environment akin to our desert terrain. Army aviators have also been operating in the desert areas since long. In fact, some of the Army's biggest battles and peacetime exercises have been carried out in the deserts and areas contiguous to the plains of Punjab. The Army Aviation Corps has participated in all wars since Independence. Recently, the Corps has an exposure of participating in a war-like scenario in Operation Vijay - 1999 Kargil Conflict. The present Army Aviation Corps has come a long way from directing artillery fire. It has now graduated to perform multifaceted tasks in battlefield and will soon emerge as the primary battle-winning factor in the future wars. This new arm has much to contribute to the prowess of the Indian Army. The Army Aviation Corps is training itself for the challenges to be confronted in the 21st century.

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