While the Indian Air force got its new top of the line fighter aircraft, the Rafales, the limelight has arguably shifted from an equally menacing aircraft, or shall we say rotorcraft.
We’re talking about the AH–64E Apache Attack helicopter & this article is an attempt to bring glory & credit to this guardian angel as it rightly deserves.
The AH-64E Apache is a US built twin turboshaft powered, heavily protected attack helicopter. It has been around since 1986 with the US Army & was gradually adopted by 16 other countries over the decade, the latest being India. In fact it has been used so extensively in combat over the years that it is one of the most widely recognised attack helicopters all over the world. It has protected the troops in Afghanistan & Iraq, kids have flown it in video games and terrorists see it as their worst nightmare.
IAF inducted the Apache in September 2019 in Pathankot as a part of the No. 125 Helicopter Squadron “Gladiators” which previously operated the Russian Mi-35 “Hind” attack choppers. This is the first time India has acquired any American combat helicopter. While the first few units of Apaches have been supplied by Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI), these will be built by TATA group for the global customers under a JV with Boeing at their facility in Hyderabad.
What makes this aircraft so deadly is its combination of firepower & protection. Its primary weapon includes a M230 chain gun of 30mm caliber, a chain gun is nothing but an electrically powered machine gun. At more than 2 meters long & weighting more than 60 kgs, it is a pretty big gun & fires a pretty devastating projectile too. The chain gun fires a 30 mm round with an energy of 71,000 joules, that’s 35 times the power of an AK-47 bullet in a single round of 30mm. If that doesn’t sound scary enough, it can fire 625 such rounds per minute up to a range of 4 kms.
This is the smallest weapon in the inventory of Apache, the second one being the 70mm unguided rocket which carries 38 units in number, two pods of 19 each in its stub wings. These are area denial weapons which means this can be fired like an automatic rifle in “spray” mode to suppress a target quickly & effectively. Each rocket has a warhead of around 4-5 kgs & an effective range of 3kms. The pods can unload the wrath of all the 38 rockets in a matter of few seconds.
The Apache’s final weapon the AGM-114 Hellfire Missile is a ground attack missile which can even bust the frontal armour of any modern day 3rd generation tank. At 88 lakh INR each these aren’t exactly cheap, but the price one pays for is to literally hit any target even 11 kms away with pinpoint accuracy with a 9 kg blast warhead at supersonic speeds. The Apache carries 8 of these in an armed air patrol mission.
The aircraft cannot only do extensive damage in the battlefield but can also sustain an equal amount of damage with the armour plates alone weighing more than 1,100 kgs. In combat scenarios in the Middle East it has been fired at with machine guns & rockets but the Apaches have managed to come back to base saving both the crew.
When we take all of these abilities into account, we understand why the AH-64E Apache was chosen to replace the Mi-35 which was an equally monstrous machine of its time albeit a lot bigger.
Half of the batch of these Apache’s use 11 of the 22 machines that are equipped with a Longbow Fire Control Radar. This is a very unique piece of equipment for a helicopter. It can track 128 targets at 8 km range & can engage 16 at a time with a reaction time of as low as 30 seconds.
While the first squadron was raised last year (2019) in Pathankot under 125 Squadron “Gladiators”, No. 18 Wing, it has already had a taste of combat operations in Eastern Ladakh sector where it was deployed for armed patrolling near the LAC after the Galwan Valley incident. Indeed as our troops say, seeing the Apache flying overhead, watching like an angel is a relieving sight. The positioning of the attack helicopter squadron is strategic because Pathankot is near the western & eastern borders and as we saw recently these choppers can be pressed into active duty on LAC/LOC very quickly.
Another squadron is getting ready at Jorhat, Assam under No. 137 Squadron. Having an attack helicopter squadron at Jorhat will reinforce IAF’s position in the Northeastern region near the border with Tibet as we already have airbases in Chabua & Tezpur , all operating the mighty Su-30MKI that we have mentioned in the Sukhoi segment. These helicopters will be a good tool to patrol the tough & mountainous terrain filled with dense foliage in Arunachal Pradesh.
IAF surely knows how to strategically position it’s assets to get the best value out of them.
In conclusion, the Apache helicopters are an asset that not only strengthens the close air support function of the IAF but also shows a political shift, signalling that we are no longer dependent on a single country for our arms. Talking about dependency & attack helicopters the article would be incomplete without mentioning the HAL Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) which is our very own attack helicopter built for high altitude warfare. 2 of the prototypes have been officially posted in Ladakh for patrolling duties amidst the standoff so as to gain more confidence in the machine. By the end of this year (2020) orders from the IAF are supposed to be placed to HAL for 15 limited series production.
Till then, sleep well in your homes as the “Guardian” patrols our night skies.