A tender for hiring of two choppers, with specifications closer to an MI17, from private players is already in the works for maintaining outposts temporarily. A further three choppers, as required by the force, may be acquired in the long run, said home ministry sources.
ITBP has several border outposts in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh which can be maintained only through air support. In Arunachal Pradesh, where roads are virtually absent, it can take several days of walking to reach outposts and weeks to comprehensively patrol borders. Choppers at exclusive disposal of ITBP can help the force a great deal in not just rescue of the ill and the injured and delivery of supplies but even surveillance of the border.
Just before the Chumar standoff began, minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju had visited border areas in Ladakh. "The minister has taken the matter of air support and lack of vehicles seriously and is pushing for them with personal interest. The file has already been moved to concerned departments," said an official from the minister's office.
The tender in the works wants choppers with flying capacity at 18,000 feet and load carrying capacity of at least one tonne. A battalion at remote border region requires anywhere between 40-50 tonnes of ration and other essentials to be dropped by air in a year.
These choppers at the command of ITBP, said sources, could also be used for border surveillance cutting down patrolling time. "Such sorties, however, would be information based. If we have indication of an incursion, a chopper can be rushed to quickly check on it," said a home ministry official.
Sources said requisition of IAF choppers for maintenance of outposts had proved to be a cumbersome exercise with the arrangement often failing to meet the needs of the force. In the current system, a periodic assessment of requirements is made by ITBP and sent to IAF which allocates a fixed numbers of sorties in a particular period for the purpose. However, due to various reasons, which include inclement weather, emergency recall of choppers or VIP movement, IAF is usually unable to fulfill its commitment, home ministry sources said.
During the Chumar standoff recently, both China and India were maintaining their positions at the eight remote border locations in Ladakh through heavy air support.