Friday, August 13, 2010

IAF may deploy more copters for anti-Naxal operations

New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is contemplating deployment of additional helicopters in the ongoing anti-Naxal operations,with its two Mi-17 s and two Dhruvs already operating in Chhattisgarh armed with sideward mounted machine guns to fire back in self-defence if they come under attack from Maoists. IAF feels it will be in a better position to deploy additional helicopters for logistical support in the coming months since its 19 choppers currently deployed in UN peace-keeping duties in Congo are slated to return to India soon. Moreover,the first lot of the 80 advanced Mi-17 helicopters ordered from Russia,for around $1.2 billion,should begin arriving by October-November, said a source.

While IAF does not need permission to act in self-defence if its helicopters come under attack,which defence minister A K Antony had made clear in Parliament last November itself,very stringent rules of engagement have been put in place. For one,IAFs Garud commandos on board the helicopters can open fire only if they come under attack while undertaking their logistical,reconnaissance and casualty evacuation duties in the anti-Naxal operations. For another,the Indian Air Force helicopters can only use their sideward mounted machine guns in retaliation,not heavier firepower like rockets,bombs or missiles. This is in keeping with the government and IAFs abhorrence for offensive air operations against the Naxals,as reported by TOI earlier.

Fortunately,there has been no occasion when we had to use the sideward-mounted guns in all these months since the helicopters have not come under fire, said a source. IAF,of course,has already taken some steps to bolster the security of its aircrew by using helicopters with armoured protection like Mi-17 s,deploying armed Garud commandos on them and issuing bullet-proof jackets to the pilots.

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