The Indian Air Force will induct its first batch of US-made Apache AH-64E (I) attack helicopters into its fleet during a ceremony at the Pathankot airbase on September 3, an IAF spokesperson said on Wednesday, in a significant step towards modernising its fleet.
India inked a $1.1-billion deal with US defence giant Boeing in September 2015 for 22 Apache choppers to sharpen its attack capabilities. The first Apache squadron is being raised with eight helicopters that have already been supplied by Boeing, the official said.
Boeing is likely to deliver all the 22 helicopters, tailored for the IAF, through 2020.
The IAF currently operates Soviet-origin Mi-25 and Mi-35 helicopter gunships.
Armed with fire-and-forget Hellfire missiles, the Apache attack choppers can track up to 128 targets in a minute and prioritise threats. The missiles equip the gunships with heavy anti-armour capabilities.
The army is also in the process of buying six Apache attack helicopters from the US at a cost of Rs 4,168 crore.
The Apache choppers will be the second US-built helicopters to join the air force fleet. IAF inducted Boeing CH-47F (I) Chinook heavy-lift helicopters at a ceremony held in Chandigarh on March 25.
India placed a $1.18-billion order for 15 Chinook choppers in September 2015 to upgrade its transport capabilities. They have filled a crucial gap in IAF’s heavy-lift capabilities as until their induction, the air force operated a solitary Soviet-origin Mi-26 chopper to deliver payloads to high altitudes.
While the Apaches and Chinook helicopters significantly enhance IAF’s capabilities, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pointed to flaws in the two purchases in a report tabled in Parliament in February this year.
On Apache helicopters, the auditor said Air Staff Quality Requirements (ASQRs) were changed based on the advice of Boeing. ASQRs are the specifications put out by the air force for the equipment it needs. But the defence ministry said the parameters were modified based on information from different sources and not merely one company.
The auditor also said IAF’s qualitative requirements for heavy-lift helicopters were aligned to the features of Boeing’s CH-47F Chinook choppers. The ministry said broad ASQRs were necessary for multi-vendor bids, a contention rejected by the auditor.