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Chopper push for border vigil

New Delhi, Nov. 30: The BSF has sought chopper support as part of a request for more facilities and personnel to patrol the Myanmar border, at a time its air wing is being expanded.

The move comes weeks after the Centre decided to move out the Assam Rifles from the 1,643km border with Myanmar and hand over the responsibility to the BSF.

Like the BSF, the Assam Rifles is a paramilitary force but unlike the BSF, it is under the army’s operational command.

The BSF is set to get eight Mi-17 V5 helicopters next month for general duties, including rescue and reconnaissance as part of anti-Maoist operations. Director-general Subhash Joshi is learnt to have asked for an unspecified number of additional helicopters exclusively to keep vigil along the Myanmar frontier.

Sources said the force was likely to ask for the same Mi-17 V5 choppers as these aircraft are known to work well over hilly terrain like the Northeast. The IAF had inducted the helicopters last year and used them effectively during the Uttarakhand flood rescue this year. “We are getting eight Mi-17 V5s next month,” a source said. The BSF’s air wing, which operates independently of the Indian Air Force, has an Embraer executive jet, vintage Avro aircraft and old Dhruv helicopters.

Joshi, the BSF chief, dwelt on the need to boost air support when he outlined his force’s requirements at a news conference today. “We will require heavy air support and we have included this in our proposals. We need to add more teeth to the air wing.”

Along the rugged Myanmar border, the BSF will have to operate many “air-maintained border outposts” — points to which personnel and provisions have to be flown as they are inaccessible by road. The Tripura-Bangladesh border has 15 such outposts.

BSF sources, speaking after a survey and from past experience, said the area had several spots, up to 40km from the border, where there were no roads. These are the zones to which supplies and personnel will have to be flown.

But strengthening the air wing is not all. The border will need floodlights, too, and more troops. The force plans to raise 41 more battalions — or nearly 50,000 troops — for this duty.