Chandigarh, November 16
The Indian Air Force is developing equipment that will enable its recently acquired Apache attack helicopters to be stationed at extreme high altitude in areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The challenge in stationing aircraft at extreme altitude is starting the engines because of rarefied area and low temperature. Attack helicopters are primarily designed for supporting mechanised formations in the plains.
“What we are looking at is developing a starting aggregate that can produce the required electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic output for helicopter engine start-up at an altitude of 16,000 feet,” an IAF officer said. The equipment would be transportable in a Mi-17 helicopter.
“This will enable attack helicopters to be stationed and several places closer to the LAC, thereby cutting down on reaction time in an emergency situation, enhancing operational flexibility and giving the machines greater loiter time over the operational area,” he added.
The AH-64 Apache helicopters, acquired from the US, have been operating in Ladakh since the 2020 stand-off with China to provide tactical fire support, when required, to ground troops manning forward positions.
In 2021, the IAF also first deployed the Apache in the north-east, operating out of north-Sikkim. There are several high-altitude airstrips and helipads in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh that too, have a contentious border with China.
These helicopters are equipped with machine guns, rockets and air-to-ground missiles and have been featuring, along with other combat platforms, in training exercises focused on conducting operations along
The Apache has a service ceiling of 20,000 feet, but have to be stationed at bases like Leh, Thoise and Nyoma or other helipads in the region that are at lower altitude and some distance away from the frontline. Even fixed wing aircraft line AN-32, when operating to and from airstrips like Nyoma and Fukche keep one engine running during the stop-over period.
The IAF has an inventory of 22 AH-64E Apache helicopters that began service in September 2019 with the IAF’s No.125 Helicopter Squadron based at Pathankot Air Force Station in Punjab. These were meant to replace the aging Soviet-origin Mi-25/35 attack helicopters.
The Indian Army too is procuring six Apache helicopters that are expected to enter service with the Army Aviation Corps in the spring of 2024. These are expected to be based in the Desert Sector.
India is the 16th country to have inducted the Apache. In fact, the fuselages for the AH-64 are being manufactured globally by Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited, a joint venture between Boeing and Tata Advanced Systems Limited, in Hyderabad.