SOURCE: TUSHKAR SHIRODKAR / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG.
A great deal of ruckus was created when Chief of defense staff Gen Bipin Rawat in an interview to a local media outlet said that “Do not forget the IAF continues to remain a supporting arm just as artillery support or engineers support the combatant arm in the Army. They will be a supporting arm,” after differences emerged with IAF over the creation of the theatre commands that could see the integration of assets to improve country’s entire air defense.
A great deal of condemnation on the choice of his words was followed by veteran air force officials and defense analysts who said that IAF was not the Indian Army Air force to act as a subordinate to the Indian Army as seen in the Chinese military structure where PLAAF is considered a branch of PLA, but rather as a separate air service branch of the Indian Armed Forces.
The tussle between the Indian Army and Indian Air force over ownership of the assets first erupted when Mi-25/35 Helicopters were inducted by 1983 all paid by the Indian Army while it continued to be operated by the Indian Air force even though the role of these gunships were to provide aerial firepower to the Strike Corps of the Indian Army it made sense that it was also operated by the Indian Army but IAF insists that is should operate them and same happened to the procurement of the Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter brought for by Army but operated by IAF.
Army’s around the world do have their aviation wing and operate gunships and a medium helicopter even have small-medium transport planes independent of the air force and tussle of over ownership of gunships and medium transport helicopters made no sense yet, IAF continues to make its case and continue to operate them. Two decades down the line when it came to replacement of these aging assets, the same tussle was witnessed between Army and the air force even though the Army Aviation wing had grown substantially over the years and deserved to keep the ownership of the AH-64E Apache and Chinook military helicopters when they have been paid from its budgetary allocations.
Indian Army finally was able to win this tussle when the Ministry of Defence (MOD) allowed it to keep follow on order for 6 AH-64E Apache under its army aviation wing rather than be operated by the air force. MOD time and again has complained that tussles over aerial assets are leading to duplication of the assets and it was integrated theater command that was to resolve this issue but instead has further complicated this issue and now air force and army yet again are accusing each other of undermining each other’s authority.
If Indian Air Force wants to be called a separate air service branch of the Indian Armed Forces, then it should stop this tussle and hand over some of the aerial assets and let Army operate its UAVs and Medium-Transport aircraft including light surveillance aircraft which is now emerging as the new frontier for the tussle between both forces. Indian Air Force should follow the norm if it wants to be called as a separate unit of the Indian armed forces but if it wants to step in area that are usually marked for the Army then it deserves to be called a supporting arm of the Indian Army.
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