RAW spooked by unsafe Mi8 choppers. Urgently seeks newer Mi17V5s to replace them, my report


STORY AS APPEARED IN THE MAIL TODAY NEWSPAPER ON OCTOBER 30, 2013Alarm bells have been rung in the most important corridors of power by the aviation wing of country’s external intelligence agency. At stake are the lives of its key operatives, involved in the gathering of intelligence.

It has been reliably learnt that the Aviation Research Centre (ARC) which functions as a feeder to Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) has raised the red flag on the usage of Russian Mi-8 helicopters. The ARC, which functions under the Cabinet Secretary’s office, has in an urgent missive informed its superior authority the need to ‘phase out and replace four Mi-8s by early next year’. In return as replacement, the agency has sought the Mi17V5s, which the Indian Air Force (IAF) is procuring for itself. A source informed that the government is fully aware of this demand of the ARC and has indicated that the IAF will be asked to procure more for the ARC. “Rather than piecemeal procurement that the ARC does, it is better than an expert organization like IAF will look at it. Anyways they are buying the same helicopter in bulk,” said a source.

However, what may upset the spy agency’s plans, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has informed this correspondent that it has not received any orders for additional procurement. A spokesperson for the IAF said, “We have already procured 80 V5s and an order for 59 more has been placed with Russia which we should receive by 2015-16. But all of these choppers are only for the IAF. No orders for any other organisation have been placed with us.”

The missions of the ARC require its operatives to undertake high altitude flying, especially in border areas and get external intelligence to the RAW. It is this context that several slippages have come to light in the Mi8 helicopters, most of which can be easily attributed to an ageing fleet.

“We have used these helicopters to the end of their potential. In a few months, by utilizing them we will be jeopardizing the safety of our staff as well as security of the mission,” said a source. The ARC presently operates multiple fixed wing as well as rotor-based aircrafts. Of the approximately 15 helicopters it has, most are of Russian origin, divided equally between the older variants of Mi17s and the Mi8s apart from a few, smaller Chetak helicopters. Since the tasking of the ARC largely pertains to gathering of intelligence along the land borders and beyond, the need for high-powered helicopters which can do high altitude missions can not be over-emphasized.

BOX:

Mi8 helicopters

·         Designed in the 1960, comparatively older to the V5 helicopters

·         Maximum ceiling: 4500m

·         Maximum speed: 250km/h

·         Maximum load: 4000 kg

Mi17V5 helicopters

·         Relatively newer variant of the trusted Mi17 family from Russia

·         Maximum Ceiling: 6000m

·         Maximum speed: 230 km/h

·         Maximum load: 4000 kg

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