It is a shot in the arm for the Border Security Force (BSF) and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
In the aftermath of the plane crash which killed nine BSF and one Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel on Tuesday in New Delhi, the BSF has decided to execute a much-delayed project to overhaul its grounded fleet of the Mi171V helicopters. The top brass of the central police organisation believes that the choppers, lying idle on the tarmac of New Delhi’s Safdarjung heliport since the last five years, will be available for duty by early 2017.
As a part of this arrangement, five of the grounded choppers will be flown together to Kazan Helicopters, a production facility under the state corporation Rostec.
Director General of the BSF, DK Pathak confirmed the development. “All procedures towards getting this done are almost complete as we speak,” he said. When asked about the time before work starts, “Very soon, you will see”.
It was learnt that the deal has been worked out under a government to government mode and will involve the opening of a commercial bid soon followed by negotiations and signing of the deal, a procedure the BSF estimates should be wrapped up by early 2016. “Once done, we will arrange for a large Antonov plane which can take these choppers inside its body, at once. The overhaul, for them all, we have been assured, will together take not more than six months,” explained an officer aware of the case.
The grounded lot of Mi17V1 was purchased in 2003 by the BSF under the Jammu and Kashmir Action plan. However, very little flying could be achieved. Only one of the six remains operational, with hardly few hours of flying time left.
The BSF air wing currently has a fleet three fixed-wing planes and 15 helicopters which include six Mi171V, six Dhruv, two recently-inducted Mi17V5 and one Cheetah helicopter. While the BSF recruits and trains its personnel to take up jobs of technicians and pilots, at present flying of choppers is carried out by personnel on deputation from the Indian Air Force (IAF). Flying of the fixed-wing planes is carried out by personnel from the BSF as well as other central police organisations.
Woes of the wing
While the Home Minister was publically gheraoed by relatives of the deceased men and questioned over the maintenance of aircraft, away from the public eye, the BSF’s air wing has seen a lot of churning. BSF’s Inspector General (Air), who looks after the wing, is a serving two-star IAF officer of the Air Vice Marshal rank. As a practice, a helicopter pilot performs this task.
There is bad blood. According to many of the BSF personnel who were spoken to in the course of this report, the IAF chopper pilots on deputation to the BSF of get ‘VVIP treatment and block our growth’.
“While we are trying, the IAF won’t let us grow. Our chopper pilots are under training for nearly six years now. They will complete training on Mi8 choppers next month but since we don’t fly them, they will have to be trained on choppers we have but where will it happen, we don’t know. Generally, there is little vision,” said an officer aware of the air wing’s operations.