India is a huge country. It is rightly called a sub-continent. The geography and topography across the country varies from a desert in the west, to some of the world’s highest snow-capped mountains in the north and north-east. Vast riverine plains in the central and eastern parts and a 1.9 million sq-km plateau in the south. The country has five distinct seasons, spring, summer, monsoon, autumn and winter. Monsoon and winters are also the seasons of natural disasters. Winters bring in avalanches and snow storms in the north while monsoons bring annual floods to the plains of the Ganga and Brahmaputra. Of late, due to climate change and unregulated human construction new areas like Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat are also experiencing unprecedented floods. The Indian Air Force is routinely called in aid of civil power for search and rescue as well as supplying relief materials in case of such natural disasters.
India is surrounded by not so friendly countries on all sides like Pakistan to the west and China to the north and north east. We have insurgents and terrorists crossing over from the Pakistan in the west and Myanmar and Bangladesh in the east. The Indian armed forces are deployed in some of the most inhospitable and inaccessible parts of the world like Siachen glacier, widely separated outposts in the Himalayas across Tibet, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh and the tropical forests along the Myanmar and Bangladesh borders. All such outposts are to be supplied and kept ready. The onus of all such activities falls on the Indian Air Force. They need an aircraft which can fly across the Himalayas in -52 degree C, deploy troops in Rajasthan in +52 degree C, carry substantial amount of supplies as well as evacuate casualties, land on small helipads made in the middle of a tropical forest and be available at all times.
The workhorse and frequent angel deployed by the Indian Air Force is the Mi 17 V-5, the latest version of the Mi 17 helicopter which has been in service with the Indian Air Force for decades. The Air Force operates 151 such helicopters and 48 more are being ordered. They are also used by the para-military Border Security Force. This aircraft is so versatile that has been used by 73 countries in the world including the UK and USA in Afghanistan. The US Department of Defence Inspector General has been on record that these aircraft outperform the Black Hawk in Afghanistan.
The Mi 17 V-5 is built by Kazan Helicopters, a subsidiary of Russian Helicopters. It can carry 4000 Kg cargo inside the aircraft as well as on sling. In addition, it can be used to insert and evacuate special forces, remember the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, the aircraft was used in the commando assault in Chabad House, the Israeli residency in Mumbai. In this role it can carry 36 fully armed troops. It can be used for medical evacuation where it can carry 12 casualties on a stretcher. This is made possible by its generous dimensions, 5.34m length X 2.34 m width X 1.8 m height. It has a cargo carrying space of 23 cu-meters. It can fly up to an altitude of 6000 m and has a maximum take off weight of 13,000 kgs.
The helicopter is powered by two TV3-117VM engines producing 2100 HP or can alternately be powered by VK-2500 engines generating 2700 HP. The TV3-117VM engine gives the aircraft a maximum speed of 250 km/h and range of 580 km. It can carry auxiliary fuel tanks to extend the range to 1,065 km.
In addition to the cargo role, the aircraft can be armed to operate like a gun ship. It has winglets on which various arms can be mounted like: –
- Shturm missiles.
- S8 rockets.
It also has mounting for: –
- PKT nose mounted gun.
- PKT aft mounted gun.
- 23 mm gatling machine gun.
- 8 positions for small arms.
These weapons allow the aircraft crew to engage enemy personnel, armoured vehicles, land based targets, fortifications and other fixed and moving targets. It can be used to provide support to infantry, escort convoys etc. The aircraft has been provided with a self defence suite to suppress its Infra Red signature, has missile defence flare dispenser, jammers, armoured cockpit, armour plating for various vital helicopter systems, self sealing and explosion resistant fuel tanks etc. Russian Helicopters provides the Mi 17 V-5 with a modern avionics suite including night vision and Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR), onboard weather radar and autopilot. In case of waterborne landing it has been provided with a flotation system.