NEW DELHI: After a bad experience with the IAF, the CRPF, which handles the anti-Naxal operations in the red zone of the country, has sought a private player to provide choppers for casualty evacuation. In the past, there have been several incidents where the IAF pilots refused to fly into conflict zones to rescue the CRPF jawans.
This has resulted in demoralisation in the ranks at a crucial time. The IAF has six helicopters--usually four in Chhattisgarh and two in Jharkhand--dedicated to counter-Naxal operations.But there have been repeated instances where the IAF pilots refused to fly.
In the deadly attack at Chintagufa in Sukma in December, where 14 CRPF jawans were killed and about a dozen others were injured, it was reported that none of the helicopters was pressed into service for casualty evacuation. Similarly, the IAF faced a lot of criticism after its Mi-17 pilots left behind an injured policeman in south Bastar jungles in January 2013.
Satpal Kapoor, IG, CRPF, on February 2, 2015, signed a contract with a Jalandhar-based aviation firm for supplying two Bell helicopters for a period of one year to begin with.
According to the agreement, the chopper base will be based at Jagdalpur and the CRPF will provide helipads as per the DGCA requirements of flight safety. But in case of an emergency, the helicopter may land at smaller helipads, the agreement stated.
The CRPF has agreed on operational use of minimum 25 hours per month at a cost of Rs 55,000 per hour. “Though the private firm will bear the cost of flying, the responsibility of security of the choppers will be with the CRPF. The CRPF has to ensure that the helicopter-landing helipads are sanitized for security and watered to avoid incidents due to dust,” the agreement states.
“We have been operating in the Naxal-hit areas since 2008 as the only private aviation firm of the country to do so. But our earlier association was with the state government. Now, the CRPF has signed us on for its anti-Naxal operations,” Ajay Veer Singh, CMD of Dhillon Aviation Private Ltd, a Jalandhar-based firm told Express. To begin with, the firm will provide two helicopters dedicated to anti-Naxal operations.
Last year, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)gave a substantial hike to the country’s largest paramilitary-the CRPF-by allocating it Rs 12,169 crore. It had received Rs 11,373 crore during 2013-14.
“This is part of the reform process because there was a feeling that the personnel on ground were ignored on several occasions. The force has decided to focus on two aspects--men and intelligence. Casualty evacuation is our top priority. Several incidents in the past have dented the image of the force and the morale of the soldiers battling insurgency on the ground,” said an official from the security establishment.
Officials say the CRPF requires these rotary wing aircraft for its operations in case of casualty evacuation. But its dependence on the IAF was costing the force too much as they failed to come forward to assist the paramilitary force.
The IAF’s biggest concern is always to protect the choppers from damage during operations, which restricts its ability to fly into thick forests, says a paramilitary officer.
There have been incidents where Maoists had targeted IAF choppers that came to assist the CRPF.
The Left-wing extremists, widely known for following the guerrilla warfare technique of shoot and scoot, are learnt to be raising specialised units of ultras to attack choppers deployed in troop movement and casualty evacuation.
This shocking disclosure came to light after Chhattisgarh Police recovered a video clip purportedly showing ultras training a unit of 15 to 20 cadres to shoot down helicopters using Light Machine Guns (LMG). The clip is said to have been taken at a training camp somewhere in the Naxal-infested Sukma forest. Sources said the Naxalites have been preparing special units since 2008 and several documents giving details of guerrilla warfare with graphic images were recovered by the forces.
A source said paramilitary forces in 2011 had seized a Vietnamese Army training manual from a Naxal hideout which had even surprised senior tacticians of the anti-Naxal operation. But senior officers involved in anti-Naxal operations termed the whole training video clip ‘childish’.
Officers pointed out that Maoists used some kind of dummy choppers made of wood, swinging them from a tree to simulate a landing, which would then be shot at. But the actual landing is very different. They pointed to several recent incidents where Maoists tried to attack a chopper during emergency evacuation but they have not been able to bring one down yet.
“It was alarming, but not surprising. We had recovered several training manuals from Naxal training camps in the past which had given us an idea about their training,” an officer added.
One such document “Aiming Helicopter: Tactics in Facing Helicopters” reveals that the Naxals have been training their cadre to hit choppers using AK-47, SLR and LMG.
The manual said that special forces of America and Britain used light-support weapons and general purpose machine gun to mount such attacks.
IAF gives Jitters at cRucial Times
The IAF has six helicopters – four in Chhattisgarh and two in Jharkhand – dedicated to counter-Naxal operations. In several cases, the IAF pilots have refused to fly into the conflict areas fearing damage to the helicopter or being targeted by the insurgents. The CRPF has now sought a private firm to provide choppers for casualty evacuations, to be based at Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh. It had agreed on operational use of minimum 25 hours per month at a cost of Rs 55,000 per hour.