NEW DELHI: Army lost its three officers in Cheetah helicopter crash in Sukma district of West Bengal. Tragedy is a grim reminder of army’s dependence on its ageing feet to operate in far-flung areas as these light utility helicopters termed as a lifeline for high altitude operations used for high altitude posts, which are inaccessible by roads to supply ration, equipment, weapons and casualty evacuation missions. On
Wednesday’s accident One Lieutenant Colonel and two major ranked officers died while chopper was returning from routine surveillance operation at border posts.
Sources in the army aviation told that these vintage helicopters have lived beyond the threshold by more than 12-15 years which were purchased from France and inducted into the Indian Army over 40
years ago in 1971.
Army has been making efforts to replace its ageing fleet of light utility helicopters for the last 15 years. Army had initiated the process of replacing Cheetah and Chetak fleet in early 2002, but the jinxed
acquisition process could not go through in Congress led UPA government after repeated bribery scandals. Eventually, the MoD in 2014 scrapped Army’s contract of buying 197 such utility helicopters.
And in December last year, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit o Moscow, both countries agreed to manufacture Kamov- 226 helicopter in India, as first major defence platform under the Make in
India agenda, but the commercial agreement between the Russian manufacturers and India’s HAL is yet to be finalized.
Upset with repeated accidents involving Cheetah and Cheetak helicopters, in 2012, army headquarters had written a letter to the office of the then defence minister AK Antony highlighting obsolescence
issues which are dogging the fleet are component failures, low reliability, accidents and increased structural failures. Army had gone into saying that cheetah/chetak have helicopters have virtually become
“death traps”. According to an official, as many as 20 pilots have lost their life in the Cheetah crashes in the recent years.
In 2014, a delegation of wives of army helicopter pilots met the defence minister Manohar Parrikar and raised their concern about the accidents involving these obsolete choppers.
There are about 250 Cheetahs/chetak in service at present with the army aviation corps. The airframe life of the light-utility helicopter is about 4,500 hours, but most of the Cheetahs that the Army has have
logged over 6,000 flying hours. The engine life of the chopper is 1750 hours and most have gone past that too.