New Delhi, Oct. 9: A.K. Antony today termed the spat between the army and the air force over control of helicopters “a family problem”, but the services are not ready to quit the turf war.
The defence minister said the government was likely to find a solution to the question of who should have control of attack helicopters — helicopter gunships. There are two squadrons of Russian-origin Mi 25 and Mi 35 helicopters.
“There is no tussle and there is no war. These are all family problems and we will find a solution. We are in the final stages of finding the solution amicably. Don’t go beyond that,” Antony said when asked who would control the helicopters. He had just taken the salute on behalf of the Prime Minister at the Territorial Army Day parade.
The attack helicopters are meant for use in situations such as close air support to advancing or retreating land forces and in urban warfare. The helicopters are operated by the air force but an official document assigns them to the command of the army.
Last week, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, who is also the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee — the most senior military commander in the country — said the air force had rejected the army’s demand for control of attack and medium-lift helicopters.
The air force is now in the process of acquiring 22 Boeing-made Apache attack helicopters. Browne had said the contract could be signed by the end of the current fiscal.
The army chief, Gen. Bikram Singh, has said he believes the defence ministry is considering his force’s request sympathetically. The army wants the helicopters in its own arsenal for tighter command and control. The Army Aviation Corps — its air wing — flies the Dhruv, the Cheetah and the Chetak.
Browne had said last Friday that the army’s demand for attack and medium-lift helicopters could spur the growth of “little air forces”, an oblique reference to the Union home ministry’s proposal to develop its own air wing.
“Tomorrow the coast guard may say give us the navy’s submarines. How can we allow that?” Browne had replied about the demand.
“Last year, in May, when the previous army chief (Gen. V.K. Singh) was there, the IAF had made an offer to let them have their own attack helicopters. But that was not accepted as they wanted medium-lift helicopters also, to which we said no.” he added.