Chandigarh is no stranger to Heavy Support Helicopters. Earlier the Grand dad of even the CHINOOK used to be stationed here …..yes the famed MI26 helicopters.
In 2015 even three British Royal Air Force Chinook had been airlifted here from the UK for deployment to Nepal for flood relief operations.
They had been re-assembled and test-flown at Chandigarh and later also spent a few days here before embarking on the return journey home.
Chinooks have a payload capacity of just about 10 tonne that is just half of the famed MI26 but much more economical to operate on regular basis.
These will provide much-needed muscle to the IAF heavy-lift capability, a role earlier being fulfilled by Soviet origin Mi-26s based at Chandigarh. However now the IAF is left with just one serviceable MI26 out of the original four.
Chinooks too can lift artillery, vehicles, road construction and engineer equipment as well as troops and supplies to mountainous sectors in North and North-East.
We will be receiving around 15 CHINOOK helicopters for now. Our aim should be to progressively build up the fleet to four Squadrons of these versatile heavies that is to have a total of 48 helicopters. Four such squadrons will be able to meet all our strategic requirements in all the theatres.
American defence company Boeing is expected to commence the delivery of CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter to the Indian Air Force in February next year.
“The helicopters would be shipped to India in a partially disassembled state and would be off-loaded at Okhla port in Gujarat,” an IAF officer said. The Americans are setting up facilities near Okhla to re-assemble and test-fly the helicopters before being handed over to the IAF, he added.
After acceptance trials, the helicopters will be flown to Chandigarh, which would be their permanent base. Two hangars and a maintenance bay along with associated technical and logistics facilities are to be set up here for the purpose.
India had signed a deal with the US in September 2015 for 15 Chinook helicopters, with an option for another four machines, and 22 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
The helicopters are likely to arrive by sea rather than by air. It indicates that the entire fleet would be delivered in one or two consignments.
The other option of airlifting in heavy freighters like the AN-124, would take multiple sorties spread over days or weeks and will be more expensive.
The first Chinook airframe manufactured for the IAF made its inaugural flight in the US in July this year.
Last month, a team of IAF personnel comprising four pilots and four engineers proceeded to Delaware in the US for conversion training on Chinooks.