The Indian Air Force (IAF) is actively working on developing specialized equipment to facilitate the deployment of its Apache attack helicopters at extreme high altitudes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The primary challenge in stationing aircraft at such altitudes lies in starting the engines under rarefied air and low temperatures, conditions prevalent in high-altitude regions.
An IAF officer explained that the focus is on creating a starting aggregate capable of generating the necessary electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic output for initiating helicopter engine start-up at an altitude of 16,000 feet. The portable equipment will be transportable using an Mi-17 helicopter, enhancing the flexibility to deploy attack helicopters in various locations closer to the LAC.
The AH-64 Apache helicopters, procured from the United States, have been operational in Ladakh since the 2020 standoff with China, providing crucial tactical fire support to ground troops. To further bolster operational capabilities, the IAF aims to reduce reaction time in emergency situations, enhance operational flexibility, and extend the loiter time of Apache helicopters over critical operational areas.
While the Apache has a service ceiling of 20,000 feet, operational bases like Leh, Thoise, Nyoma, or other helipads in the region are situated at lower altitudes. The development of starting equipment tailored for high altitudes will allow the IAF to strategically position Apache helicopters at locations with varying altitudes, contributing to a more agile and responsive defense posture.
The IAF currently operates 22 AH-64E Apache helicopters, replacing aging Soviet-origin Mi-25/35 attack helicopters. Additionally, the Indian Army is set to procure six Apache helicopters, expected to enter service with the Army Aviation Corps in the spring of 2024, primarily stationed in the Desert Sector. The Apache helicopters represent a critical component of India’s defense capabilities, and ongoing advancements aim to optimize their deployment across diverse and challenging terrains.