The multi-role AH-64 Apache helicopters can give India a significant edge in case a conflict erupts with China amid the border stand-off in Ladakh. Deployed in the Ladakh region, the Apache attack helicopter is the world’s premier attack helicopter with combat-proven capabilities.
With the Chinese PLA having inducted light tanks in the area of the standoff, armed/attack helicopters (AH) are expected to play a significant role in the case of a conflict.
The Indian Apaches, half of them Longbow versions, come armed with AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface anti-tank missiles, AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles, and 2.75″ rockets. It can carry a maximum of 16 Hellfire missiles.
The attack helicopter is armed with a chain gun that sends 625 rounds per minute ripping into armored vehicles in a war zone. Its ability to shoot ‘fire and forget’ anti-tank guided missiles, air-to-air missiles, rockets, and other ammunition are part of its enhanced capability.
The latest version of the attack helicopters, AH-64E, is versatile in conducting network-centric aerial combat due to its modern electronic warfare system.
With two high-performance turboshaft engines, it has a maximum cruise speed of 284 kilometers per hour. Capable of carrying all-weather combat operations, it does not have any restriction on night flying since it’s equipped with an infrared night-vision system for navigation.
History of Upgrading Apache
Apaches are well known for their action in 1991 when they reduced Iraqi radars to rubble with their Hellfire missiles. Its capabilities become evident when 278 AH-64As had destroyed 500 armored vehicles during the Gulf War and only one chopper was lost to a rocket-propelled grenade.
But as per the 21st-century requirements, the analog-era technology in the AH-64As was upgraded to a more modernized version of AH-64D. Another factor that adds to the strengths of Apache helicopters is that they have seen timely upgrades since 1986 when they were first deployed by the US.
It has been equipped with color digital flight displays, modem-based datalinks, and a new GPS and doppler radar navigation systems but what makes this version deadliest is the Longbow.
The drum-shaped Longbow on a mast atop the Apache’s rotor is used to target the radar-guided AGM-114L missiles up to five miles away. Its raised position allows “to track multiple air or ground targets while hovering concealed behind trees or hills”, Sébastien Roblin writes in The National Interest.
Apaches have long been used for counter-insurgency operations, not just by the US, but other countries like Israel and the UK as well, that have used the grisly attack helicopters in several operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the latest version AH-64E, the attack helicopters are able to take out targets on the battlefield with precision-guided missiles. Roblin says that since short-range air-defense systems become more deadly, and with the high cost of attack helicopters, the survivability of Apache in the 21st century remains open to question.
Still in Demand
Three decades later, it is still the best attack helicopter available on the planet. The armored attack helicopter sees extensive demand among countries like the UK, Egypt, India, and Taiwan and remains in action in the Middle East.
India is among the sixteen countries which are operating Apache helicopters currently. Boeing has delivered about 2500 Apache helicopters so far, globally. In July 2020, Boeing had completed the delivery of 22 AH-64E Apache helicopters to the Indian Air Force.
— Boeing India (@Boeing_In) July 10, 2020
In 2020, India had signed another contract with the US for the acquisition of six Apaches for the Indian Army during American President Donald Trump’s visit to New Delhi.
The most recent deal for Apaches came recently when the US State Department approved arms sales worth $4 Billion to Kuwait, which includes eight Apache AH-64E helicopters and an upgrade of an additional 16 older Apaches.
Chinese Capabilities in Ladakh
India presently holds mere 70-80 attack helicopters (AH) which includes the armed Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) – Rudra. The Chinese, as per data available, have approximately 280 attack helicopters in their inventory but a large number of these are in the category of light reconnaissance and attack and armed versions.
In the attack helicopters category, the much-touted state of art Chinese Z-10 AH’s capability to operate in high altitude is questionable due to its underpowered engines.
It’s due to this basic reason that the Pakistan army selected the Turkish T-129 ATAK attack helicopter over the Chinese Z-10.
As per reports, the Chinese are working on a new engine, which is yet to go into production. In the absence of a potent helicopter like the Apaches, experts suggest that India has a major weapon in its armory that can be a potential game-changer for a small scale / limited war high-up in Ladakh.