In a major capability boost for the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Boeing Company delivered four AH-64E Apache attack helicopters on Saturday, ahead of the contracted schedule, at the Hindan Air Force Station, outside Delhi.
Boeing has announced that four more Apaches will arrive in the coming week. The eight will then move to the Pathankot Air Force Station for their formal induction by the IAF, in September. By next year, the IAF will operate a fleet of 22 Apaches.
In 2015, the IAF signed a $1.8 billion contract for 22 Apaches, including production, training and maintenance support. In 2017, another six Apaches were contracted for the army. Since last year, Indian pilots have been training in the US to fly and operate the Apache.
The IAF’s Apaches will replace its obsolescent Soviet-origin Mi-35 attack helicopters that have come to the end of their four-decade-long service lives, despite having been recently upgraded for night operations.
Each IAF Apache squadron will have ten attack helicopters. The IAF’s 22 Apaches will equip two squadrons, with two choppers in reserve to cover for accidents or combat casualties.
Additionally, the army intends to raise three Apache squadrons, one for each of the mechanised strike corps: Mathura-based 1 Corps, Ambala-based 2 Corps and Bhopal-based 31 Corps. In addition to the six Apaches already on order, the army is likely to place another order on Boeing for about thirty more.
Boeing has delivered more than 2,200 Apaches to 14 customers around the world. The helicopter has flown about a million mission hours in conflicts from the First Gulf War in 1991 to the on-going combat in Afghanistan. It is armed with advanced fire control radar, anti-tank missiles, rockets and a chain gun that sends 625 rounds per minute ripping into armoured vehicles.
Over the years, the Apache has been incrementally upgraded. The version the IAF is getting – the AH-64E, with greater thrust and lift, joint digital operability, improved survivability and cognitive decision aids – is the one being flown by the US Army.
In addition to the Apaches, the IAF and army will soon induct the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), designed and manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). The IAF has projected a requirement of 65 LCH, while the army has undertaken to buy another 114. The LCH, which is at an advanced stage of flight-testing, is specially designed for the extreme Himalayan altitudes that much of the army is deployed in.
The IAF’s Apache contract is in two parts: In the first category of Direct Commercial Sales (DCS), the IAF has negotiated directly with Boeing for the helicopter, less the engines and sensors, but including spares and services. In the second Foreign Military Sales (FMS) category, which includes the helicopter’s engines, fire control systems, radars, key avionics and weapons and missiles, the US Department of Defence (the Pentagon) has negotiated costs with vendors, usually benchmarked at the price the vendor last sold the equipment to the US military. In many FMS contracts, the foreign customer gets the equipment cheaper than the US military did, since production costs keep declining as the production line gets amortised.
The Apache contract is yet another feather in the cap for Boeing, which also bagged the contracts for supplying India the CH-47F Chinook helicopter, C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft and the P-8I Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
To discharge its offset liabilities, Boeing has ramped up sourcing from India, which the company claims currently stands at $1 billion annually. It is procuring from over 160 companies in India, including a joint venture that manufactures fuselages for Apache helicopters.