Chinook In IAF Colours: 5 Big Reasons The IAF Is Smiling

It’s a phrase thrown about often in this business, but in the compulsively bumpy world of Indian aviation procurement, there are few occasions when an item chosen for the armed forces is a certain, unequivocal game-changer. The Indian government’s decision to clear a deal for 15 Boeing Ch-47F Chinook heavy lift helicopters steps far from the slapdash, frequently fallible procurement paths the armed forces have taken all too often. For one thing, the Chinook won a competition. Two, the government’s decision to close the deal comes nearly three years of negotiations later — an indication, perhaps and hopefully, that India has closed the best deal it could for the product. But now that the decks are truly cleared for a direct commercial sale contract between the Indian MoD and Boeing Defense, it’s useful to examine sentiments within the Indian Air Force, which will operate the Chinooks possibly from its Chandigarh base, but possible closer to the country’s capital too. Here are five reasons why the CH-47F Chinook in IAF colours (as detailed for the first time by artist Saurav Chordia above) could be a true game-changer in Indian service:

1. The IAF has had a troubled run with its spare heavylift rotory wing capability. Of the four Mi-26 Halos it bought in the eighties, three remain (one was written off after a severe crash-landing five years ago). But even before the accident, the platform has had typically severe serviceability issues that have mostly seen only one in the air at any given time — not the worst of scenarios for such a small fleet, but grossly less than what the IAF wanted from these machines. Replaced with a full-sized fleet of new generation helicopters will give IAF planners the kind of heavylift rotory wing flexibility they’ve never had before. Squadron-sized numbers (and, of course, newer circumstances) will shore up serviceability and put more numbers in pilots’ hands. The last few years have demonstrated that the ability to have more than one of these helicopters in the air at any given time is the difference, quite literally, between life and death. More numbers of heavylift copters in aero-bridge operations during humanitarian relief or disaster reconstruction work will be crucial.
2. Trials in 2010-11 convinced the IAF in no small measure that the tandem rotor capability would enormously boost what they were already doing with the conventionally framed Mi-26, especially in high-altitude operations. A comparison of what the tandem rotored Chinook could do in terms of landing approach capability, centre of gravity envelope etc., as opposed to the aerodynamic, performance and safety constraints on the CH-53 Super Stallion/Mi-26 proved to be too substantive to ignore. In simple terms, the IAF was convinced the Chinook could get more done, cleaner and safer.
3. The Chinook is substantially smaller and with a lower payload capacity than the Mi-26, but a higher degree of loading/unloading flexibility (especially rear loading) coupled with  a significantly greater number of cargo/troops/equipment configurations convinced the IAF that switching to the tandem rotor machine made more sense than explore the very capable Mi-26T2, that sports better engines, avionics and safety features than the variant the IAF currently operates. The Chinook’s performance with under-slung cargo also won the IAF over.
4. The Chinook’s flying qualities, agility in the air, significantly lower rotor diameter and landing flexibility will allow the IAF to fly it where it couldn’t have even thought of taking the Mi-26. High altitude border areas, along narrow ridges and valleys, to deliver equipment, humans or materials for construction, road-building/repair, communications infrastructure building, disaster relief, casualty evacuation or any of the several other mission profiles the Chinook is built for. Why is that a game-changer? Because the IAF cannot satisfactorily deliver heavy payloads to precise sites even now. If not fully in some areas, tandem rotor operations will close the gap significantly, allowing the IAF to deliver closer to sites of requirement than ever before.
5. The Chinook is only the second heavylift helicopter the IAF will have ever operated. Unlike the Mi-26  that has performed strictly a troop/cargo transport role, the Chinook will obviously have a special missions profile as well. While the IAF has been looking at the MH-47 special operations configuration, the CH-47F variant it has chosen will definitely be used for special operations training and exercises, and will necessarily integrated with the larger joint special forces orbat. The IAF, a master at finding innovative new uses for its kit, could throw up several surprises behind the stick of a Chinook.

13 thoughts on “Chinook In IAF Colours: 5 Big Reasons The IAF Is Smiling”

  1. "The IAF has had a troubled run with its spare heavylift rotory wing capability………… helicopters will give IAF planners the kind of heavylift rotory wing flexibility"

    is it 'rotary'?

    "aerodynamic, performance and safety constraints on the CH-53 Super Stallion/Mi-26"

    Where did CH-53 super stallion come from? Why have you included it along with Mi-26?

    I believe the CH-53 super stallion was never even on offer list to India, so where did the "aerodynamic, performance and safety constraints on the CH-53 Super Stallion" come from?

    From the previous article: EXCLUSIVE: Indo-Israeli LRSAM Range Extended By A Third

    "Top Navy tell Livefist that while the 2nd Kolkata-class… "

    Is it "Top navy officials informed"?

  2. I still believe the Mi-26T2 was the right option for us.

    To your first point on "severe serviceability issues", we brought this helicopter around the time it came into service. It was a new product developed on design methodologies of the eighties era. The Mi-26 became fully operational in 1983, and in 1986 we bought the mi-26. We bought just after it became operational, this is not the case with CH-47.

    Right from that time, I haven't heard much of up-gradation or modernisation of the Mi-26 fleet. But over the decades the technology has evolved dramatically, and so did the CH-47 along with it. To say that Mi-26 has low serviceability rate by considering the modern CH-47 doesn't do justice to Mi-26. All the issues we had with older models of the mi-26 were addressed and the Mi-26 performance was greatly enhanced in the newer platforms. We have been using the Mi-26 for quite a long time, we already have all the necessary infrastructure in place for these helicopters, so the natural progression would have been the Mi-26T2. Now we have to create the infrastructure and train the concerned people in handling the all new platform which will add to the cost.

    I remember quite well watching a documentary on CH-47; where in the beginning, the CH-47 too had many issues. Many were quite sceptical about buying the helicopter. But as the development and design improved, it proved to be an asset. And since this very category deals with "heavy-lift", the CH-47 cannot lift as much cargo as the Mi-26.

    As to your second point, the flight performance characteristics varies at different envelopes of altitudes. My question is, if the CH-47 can lift 'X' amount of cargo at very low altitudes, can it lift the same amount of cargo at the highest altitude it can fly? Or, can the CH-47 carry same load of cargo as the Mi-26T2 can lift at the highest altitude the Mi-26T2 can fly? For example, if the Mi-26T2 can fly only up to 4000m with around 2 tonnes of cargo, can the CH-47 fly to the same altitude with same load of cargo? I believe it cannot.

    To your points on the 'landing approach capability, centre of gravity envelope,higher degree of loading/unloading flexibility,significantly greater number of cargo/troops/equipment configurations,agility in the air,landing flexibility….'

    can we not employ the huge fleet of Mi-17's we already have for this? Doesn't the Mi-17's qualify to undertake operations on all the parameters mentioned above? They fit into all of the above parameters quite beautifully. The only question would be the load carrying ability of the Mi-17s at high altitudes. Since the Mi-17's too, can fly at high altitudes, I think we can employ these platforms, may be they may not carry as much cargo, but two to three sorties can be undertaken to deliver all the required cargo. Considering the Mi-17 are relatively inexpensive platform with low operating costs, I think even the costs will be lower for such operations. May be the realistic calculations on these may prove me wrong. But, I don't see how selecting the CH-47 over the Mi-26T2 tends to 'change the game'.

    Anyway, these are justy my views, happy if someone could point the inaccuracies in my view and point out in much detail why the CH-47 was a 'must have' for IAF.

  3. All said and done, the Mi-26 was called in to rescue a Chinook stranded deep in Afghan enemy territory by none other than the US Govt. Do google it up.

    I agree with the previous poster that the Chinook is not a necessary purchase. In terms of payload, it is more similar to the upgraded Mi-17 being bought in huge nos by the IAF (139 at last count) and the Chinook is not at all comparable to the Mi-26-in terms of payload. I agree on the lower serviceability of the Mi-26 but with the second gen Mi-26, this would have been resolved to a large extent.

    Also with the cost of 15 Chinooks-we would have been able to buy a minimum 30-45 Mi-26 helos. I am sure 30 Mi-26 helos would have provided more availability than 15 Chinooks.

    Would have been better if we bought 44 Apaches instead of the 22 as the Apaches genuinely provide a capability that the Russian platforms do not.

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