The first squadron of ``Rudra'' helicopters, the weaponised version of ``Dhruv'' advanced light helicopters (ALH) manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), will be raised in Bangalore and later deployed in the western sector facing Pakistan, said sources.
While not in the class of heavy-duty ``attack'' helicopters, which have greater combat capabilities and armour protection, each Rudra will be armed with a chin-mounted 12.7mm canon, 70mm rockets, Magic Matra air-to-air missiles and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) to form a ``deadly package'' against enemy forces.
"The difference between attack and armed helicopters is blurring. The Rudras will constitute the third dimensional maneuver arm to provide ground commanders with a lethal edge,'' said a source.
"The ALHs did excellent rescue work in Uttarakhand recently. With combat firepower, speed and mobility, they will prove their worth in military operations too. While a Dhruv costs Rs 47 crore, each Rudra comes for Rs 71 crore,'' he added.
The Army will initially induct six squadrons (10 helicopters each) of the Rudras, named after the Rigvedic god of the tempest. The first two squadrons will have imported ATGMs but the next four will have the indigenously-developed Nag-Helina ATGMs with a four-km strike range.
While the Army's Aviation Corps (AAC) currently operates around 190 ageing Cheetah/Chetak helicopters as well as 70 Dhruv ALHs, attack and medium-lift helicopters were so far the IAF's preserve only.
The Army for long had been demanding ``full command and control'' over ``tactical air assets'' for rapid deployment, holding that IAF can retain its ``larger strategic role''. Finally, in a bid to resolve the long-standing battles, the defence ministry last year decided ``future'' procurements of attack helicopters will be for Army. IAF, however, will get the 22 AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters to be acquired from the US for over $1.4 billion.
Induction of Rudras marks a significant boost to Army's endeavour to build its own ``mini'' air force. The raising of ``aviation brigades'' for each of the 1.13-million strong Army's three ``strike'' and 10 ``pivot'' corps (each has around 75,000 soldiers) has already kicked off.
The force wants one attack helicopter squadron each for its three ``strike'' formations - 1 Corps (Mathura), 2 Corps (Ambala) and 21 Corps (Bhopal) — in keeping with their primary offensive role. Moreover, it has plans to induct 114 Rudras for the remaining 10 `pivot' corps.
The force's long-term plans include a squadron each of attack/armed, reconnaissance/observation and tactical battle-support helicopters for all the 13 corps. In addition, the force wants each of its six regional or operational commands to get ``a flight'' of five fixed-wing aircraft for tactical airlift of troops and equipment.- Times of India