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India Is Finally Getting Apache Attack Helos

June 19, 2018

Stock image of Apache gunship.

Last week the US government’s official military exports agency announced the sale of a half dozen AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters to India. The press release from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) valuated the package, which included various munitions and spare parts, at $930 million but no timetable was announced for its delivery.

Selling AH-64E’s to India comes ten years after it was first pitched to Delhi and a full eight years since the Apache beat the competing Russian Mi-28 in live demonstrations. The timing of this sale couldn’t be more urgent as India’s leadership has been lobbying hard for arms sales by the Trump administration since 2017.

Details published by the DSCA reveal vital components are included with each helicopter and this covers a spare set of engines. The entire package approved by the US State Department and now awaiting acceptance by the legislative branch spans:

  • 14 T700-GE-701D engines
  • Four AN/APG-78 fire control radars
  • Four radar electronic units Block III
  • Four AN/APR-48B modernized radar frequency interferometers
  • Seven targeting sights/night vision sensors

A bundle of munitions are thrown in for good measure. India will apparently be receiving AH-64E’s equipped for both anti-tank and anti-aircraft roles. The Apache’s track record in Afghanistan and the Middle East and the Indian army’s own long-running counterinsurgency in Kashmir makes the AH-64E a perfect choice for providing close air support to jawans in pitched battles. The DSCA listed the following weapons ready for delivery:

  • 118 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles
  • 90 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire II missiles
  • 200 Stinger Block I-92H missiles

Like almost every announcement by the DSCA a few caveats were enumerated. Foremost is contributing to the “US-Indian” strategic relationship–and not antagonizing any specific country–followed by the claim Apaches help with modernizing India’s armed forces. Lastly, the DSCA insist selling new attack helicopters to India “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.” Since neither the DSCA nor the Pentagon, even the Trump White House, released any statement naming a specific arrival date for an admittedly small batch of Apaches, whether or not this deal is ever closed is a question mark.

India already possesses a homegrown armaments manufacturing sector with a distinguished history and importing foreign-made weapons has proven controversial in this decade. Time is of the essence when it comes to these AH-64E Apaches, whose paltry numbers are inadequate to meet the Indian army’s needs for a dedicated rotary combat aircraft. There’s also the looming competition between the AH-64E and the less advanced but locally made Light Combat Helicopter (LCH).

While the LCH is an unproven model, its long record of development and testing means it was tailored for India’s climate and infrastructure. One much publicized feat is its performance in very high altitudes which Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) claims is unmatched. More importantly, the LCH is a boon for local subcontractors since India’s governments mandates “Made in India” for equipment and parts used on military hardware. The LCH also carries as many weapons as an Apache such as the air-to-surface variant of the NAG missile.

The state-owned aerospace giant HAL has another ace up its sleeve. Its cost-effective Dhruv light helicopter can be re-assembled to carry rocket pods and a machine gun under its nose, making it an armed scout helicopter called the Rudra. So India’s armed forces really have two options here.

One more advantage for the LCH are pre-orders for 179 units delivered to the air force and army. HAL’s production line for the LCH was already launched in 2017 and unless the Apaches are delivered before 2020, this $930 million deal might languish in diplomatic memos and occasional newspaper editorials.

It’s important to note that neither Boeing nor Lockheed Martin have announced joint ventures with any Indian companies who will perform maintenance and repairs for these Apaches. The Indian government remains inflexible with its “Make In India” policies and no foreign weapon system is allowed to enter service with the Indian military unless guarantees for technology transfer are fulfilled. Although sensible on the outset, “Make In India” turned into a stumbling block that’s achieving the opposite; there’s a risk manufacturers would rather not share their sensitive technology with India.

Will Indian army pilots be soon flying Apaches? Nobody is quite sure.

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