A Chetak helicopter of the Indian Air Force

The Army Aviation Corps is in the process of a major augmentation of its fire power with the induction of the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) underway, and Apache attack helicopters from 2024 onwards. However, its fleet of ageing Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which are a lifeline for high altitude areas, are in dire need of replacement. Of the 190 Cheetahs and Chetaks in service, around 134 helicopters or over 70% of them are over 30 years old.

“While combat potential has increased manifold and is on an upswing, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities are going to take a hit unless induction of Ka-226T and indigenous Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) take place simultaneously to replace the ageing fleet,” a defence official said on condition of anonymity.

The LUH, designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), has come up well, but it will take time for sufficient numbers to come in, the official stated.

The Air Force is also scheduled to raise its first LCH squadron shortly.

However, the deal with Russia for 200 Ka-226T utility helicopters has been stuck for several years over indigenisation issues and is now on the verge of cancellation with the availability of the LUH and the global situation compounded by the war in Ukraine, two defence officials independently confirmed.

The Indian Army and Indian Air Force (IAF) together have a requirement of over 400 helicopters of this class.

Ageing Fleet

Army Aviation currently operates around 190 Cheetah, Chetak and Cheetal helicopters, with five of them, the oldest, being over 50 years old. A bulk of the fleet, close to 130 of the 190, are between 30 to 50 years old, an official in the know said.

This fleet is the lifeline in transporting supplies and for evacuations in high altitude areas, including the Siachen glacier. In addition to the Army, the Navy and IAF too operate these helicopters. For instance, the IAF has around 120 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, and around 18 of the more recent Cheetals.