Home Opinion Brahmastra Army and IAF fought over Apache choppers, costing us Rs 2,500 crore...

Army and IAF fought over Apache choppers, costing us Rs 2,500 crore more. Blame their silos

Purchase of 28 Apache helicopters is the prime example of how India could have worked out a better deal had the IAF and Army not acted in silos.

An Apache helicopter
An Apache attack helicopter (representational image) | Commons

Do this math: 22 AH-64E Apache helicopters in 2015 cost $2.1 billion, or Rs 14,910 crore, and six of these in 2020 cost Rs 6,600 crore.

In just five years, the cost of one helicopter jumped by 62 per cent.

Yes, about Rs 1,100 crore each is what the Army will pay for six iconic pure attack helicopters that come armed with the state-of-the-art weapon system and are a big boost to the military’s firepower.

If one does a basic calculation, then each IAF helicopter in 2015 cost approximately Rs 678 crore while the Army ones in 2020 cost about Rs 1,100 crore. This means that the six new helicopters cost about Rs 2,500 crore more.

Before you start outraging over the overpriced helicopters, which is due to the military’s mistake, here’s a caveat. Remember that the price also includes the cost for the simulators, creation of infrastructure and performance-based logistics, which will also take care of spares, besides the training of the initial group of pilots.

But the difference in the cost is an important window into the silos that Indian armed forces operate in.

The deal for the Army came after a fight with the Indian Air Force (IAF) during the UPA government. While the Army was of the view that the attack choppers should go to them, the IAF did not want to lose its position since it has traditionally played the integrated combat aviation cover to the Army’s Strike Corps.

Former IAF chief N.A.K Browne had even said that he could not allow “little air forces doing things of their own”.

To buy peace between the warring services, it was decided by then-UPA government that while the IAF will get the first 22 helicopters, the future purchase will go to the Army.

With the final clearances for both IAF and Army deals coming through during the Narendra Modi government, India ended up paying for two separate training process, infrastructure creation, spares, simulators, etc.

Had India decided to buy the helicopters in one go, the country could have bargained for a better deal overall since it is common sense that higher volumes bring down cost.

Also read: A year on, IAF hero Abhinandan is training for another Balakot and training young pilots

Why two wings need the same chopper?

Why should two forces have the same attack helicopters and for the same task? The political establishment should have cracked the whip and decided which force gets to keep all the helicopters. In my opinion, the attack helicopters should be with the Army, just like in the US military.

Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat is absolutely correct in his approach to bring in jointness in the armed forces, not just in terms of ethos and operations but also in defence acquisition.

“There are many systems that are common to the services or are duplicated. We are trying to see how we can look at it jointly so that the cost can come down and optimal utilisation is done,” Gen Rawat told me recently.

Also read: How Afghan intel helped India carry out the Balakot air strike

A lesson for future purchases

While the Apache is a prime example of how India could have worked out a better deal had the services not thought in silos, it also shows why India should not go about doing piecemeal purchases.

The fact is that 28 Apache helicopters are not enough for a country like India, which has multiple theatres of threats. India needs more attack helicopters.

The six Apaches to the Army is a joke because they do not fulfil even a fraction of the requirements, except bringing a feel-good factor of having the iconic choppers.

The talk is that India will eventually buy more and will depend on the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) being manufactured by the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Also read: Cabinet clears $2.4 billion deal for MH-60 Romeo helicopters for Navy ahead of Trump visit

LCH in waiting

Incidentally, while the LCH is ready for operational induction, no order has been placed with HAL yet. Even the techno-commercial proposal for 15 Limited Series Production (LSP) is yet to be decided upon by the IAF and army. HAL is looking for an eventual order of 160 helicopters, including 93 from the Army.

Another example is the Rafale. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the intention to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets in fly-away condition, it was welcomed by everyone in the IAF and the defence community.

The negotiations of the previous MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) contract had reached a stalemate and Rafale will decisively add to the IAF’s firepower. However, the fact remains that 36 Rafale jets are just not enough. India could now go in for additional 36 jets, which could be partly assembled in the country under a new contract.

Thankfully, India went in for creation of two bases, which means that there would be no additional cost on infrastructure development.

Gone are the days when there would be actual dogfight in the air. Today, a lot depends on hitting the enemy from beyond visual distance.

And hence, the induction of the Rafale — which is equipped with missiles like the air-to-air Meteor and air-to-surface Scalp — would give a huge fillip to India’s air capability.

Also read: Western & Eastern naval commands to merge into Peninsular Command, says CDS Gen Bipin Rawat

Focus on capability

So, at a time of budgetary constraints, rather than just focusing on numbers, the armed forces should also look at capability, something which the Modi government is increasingly interested in.

As former defence secretary G. Mohan Kumar wrote in The Economic Times: “The armed forces’ 15-year Long Term Integrated Perspective Plans (LTIPP) — the mainstay of their modernisation programme — remains an ambitious paper exercise without any realistic link to the annual capital allocations.”

“With better jointness the LTIPPs could be reworked and prioritised, but slow acquisitions taking several years and uncertainties in funding can plague rapid modernisation,” he wrote.

A non-silos approach to defence requirements will not just help the forces, but the government will also get maximum penny out of a buck.

This article has been updated to provide clarity on how the author arrived at the figure of Rs 2,500 crore. 


  1. The print= Disgusting news articles

    Clearly shows how incapable their journalists are and how they try to mislead the nation.

  2. As such I do not belive the Print bcoz of its involvement in anti national activities. But in this case of procurement you are absolutely right. The Army and Air force had differences in purchasing the helicopters. Same differences arose even in case of Procurement of Fighter jets for Navy to be operated frm aircraft carrier and to be operated by Airforce. This is the reason why Naval version of Rafale was not selected. This has costed us heavily. There’s no doubt abt it. We really need to change our Defence procurement plans altogetherly.

  3. You at the print are not “us* you are antinational print media and soon you will go down you were never part of India and we all know your f*** motives you bitchey jackholes

    • Read the article first. We paid for two separate contracts for the same helicopter. Why would you discount it ? That shows your lack of critical thinking. If we had bought the Apaches in one bulk order we would have saved a lot more money, that be used for a lot more things. Instead we ended up paying for two separate contracts. for the same helicopter. Patriotism is good, but not when wrong things are done. You should not close your eyes and throw away anything that is legitimate criticism.
      No Air Force in the world operates attack helicopters. Attack helicopters have one role – tank killers and close air support for the Army. They can move along with our Armored core.
      The Air Force’s duty is to create total air superiority, so that our other aircraft can fly with impunity

  4. 2015 से 2020 तक 5 साल में आर्मरी और एवियोनिक्स टेक्नोलॉजी बहुत ज्यादा अपग्रेड हो जाती है ….इसका अंदाजा आप अपने 5 साल पहले के मोबाईल हैंडसेट से लगा सकते हैं आर्मी और एयरफोर्स वर्जन में आर्म्स और एम्युनिशन अलग अलग होता है


  6. Interservice rivalry is a legacy Cong from the time the foot soldiers were augmented by cavalry and layer by other weapons of war operations across the oceans and sky. It is a undeniable fact that in the Indian context, the civilian beurocracy in the MoD and MoF deliberately played one wing against the other and the unwary Chiefs fell for the bait. At times some of them were not even in speaking terms. All of a sudden , it has dawned on the political leadership supported by the beurocracy to have a CDS after almost two decades of dilly dally. And suddenly it is realised that the the entire Army has to be made into theatre commands! Only two years ago, the three wings were going ga-ga about Net-work centric warfare and the paper issued by the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committe is in public domain. So all the work done towards the implementation of the above doctrine will be put in limbo. Boasting about a joint command of AD assets with Army and Air Force is merely shifting of the Command and control aspect and cannot do away the operational control in each theatre. The main thrust of Air Force all along has been to protect their air assets and runways from getting neutralised by enemy. The primary role of Army AD has been to protect Vulnarable areas and Points which may be in hinter land. In addition Army has also provide close AD support for the advancing mechanised columns and their logistical nodes in forward areas. How a unified Command for all AD role can carry out this task effectively without confusion since the available AD assets for the Army for it role it will be playing at present is highly inadequate. The combining of Eastern and Western fleet to make it a peninsular fleet is at best an internal prerogative of the Naval HQ only. CDS has no role in this. As far as Andaman unified Command, the Army assets there are negligible and there is nothing on cards for beach head operations in the East. So what are they crowing about?

  7. This srticle is cresting junnecessary imaginary conflict drama amongst services. Thid is a healthy and security concious oriented conflict which is only a welcome sign

  8. To his credit the columist has made a good point and stuck his neck out by castigating the govt – both UPA and present – for not reading the riot act, in this case to the IAF, and handing over all rotary wing aviation to the Army once and for all.

    Now, before any anonymous “expert” in the comments section starts questioning other people’s expertise, please lead by example and first provide a link that details your expertise. What a person’s level of expertise is comes out in the quality of the comment..

    1. The IAF-Army battle is an example of the numerous turf wars that happen between all services all the time in all militaries – mostly about self-interest and budgets. IAF has different missions and Army has different missions is a bogus argument made mostly by the IAF since it fears losing turf and budgets. Kindly mention one independent wartime mission the IAF has carried out using helicopters that was not linked closely with the Army.
    2. In the US where unlike in India the Air Force was a branch of the Army until 1947 it took two “formal” agreements between the services in 1948 and in 1966 before these battles on who should operate what kind of aircraft got resolved.
    3. Coming to India, the attack helicopters units of the IAF while under the administrative control of the IAF are even today under the operational control of the Army which is what matters in combat. So it is the most logical thing to transfer them once and for all to the Army. Not just the US but Pakistan and China also follow the same practice and not just for attack helicopters but also “transport” helicopters that carry out tactical airlift for the Army.
    4. Both the Indian Army and the Indian Navy have aggressive expansion plans for their aviation branches – just as it should be to reflect the demands of modern warfare. The IAF wants to keep resisting and holding Indian military progress back, it can try but it will fail. All that it is doing currently is wasting precious national resources and compromising warfighting capability.

    Is suffering the consequences through dead soldiers/airmen/sailors the only way we want to learn our lesson?

    • Well said sir ! Well said. I get so frustrated reading some of these idiotic comments. Patriotism isn’t just blindly agreeing with the government and military decisions. Our military really needs to fast track into the modern battlefield.
      No Air Force in the world operates attack helicopters. Attack helicopters have one role – tank killers and close air support for the Army. They can move along with our Armored corps to support and spearhead attacks.
      The Air Force’s duty is to create total air superiority, so that our other aircraft can fly with impunity

  9. Pl ask the concerned persons for the difference and post it along. partial information is no use. Improve your standard.
    By the by , almost no decision was take during 10 years congress rule.

  10. If the helicopter is built entirely on gold will cost lesser amount than the price paid to buy this computer.

  11. Army and AF are both us. The one that cost less is us is stupid definition. Each force has its need and reason to insist. A journalist is ignorant to take sides. in such matter. Please remove this tab and its coverage.

  12. I am Dr. Karan Singh presently working in I.A.F. welcomes the decision of SC on women’s permanent commission in defence. Our country is having nearby 50% population of female gender then why do we hesitate for their participation in decision making of every walk of life. Man has not come on this planet himself, brought painfully by someone, female. Let us respect them with true spirits. Jai Hind, Jai Bhart.

  13. Are we sure they will work in times of conflict?India is the 4th largest importer of arms in the world. Yet when PAF retaliated against our Balakot strike. Russian R77 missiles fizzled out without even achieving claimed range.The MICA missiles in the Mirage 2000s couldn’t even be launched because of ‘technical glitches’. Our communications were jammed by Pakistani AWACS, and we shot down our own helicopter killing all on board. How come Pakistani equipment worked flawlessly? Where is all this money spent on arms imports going? BMWs for our Babu’s in defence HQ? or Villas is Spain and France for them? Our biggest enemies are our obscenely corrupt officials,not Pakistan or China.

    • What do babus have to worry about ? Just look at some of the comments here. They are more outraged that the news is reporting this nonsense than actually about the military wasting money.

  14. The Print has always been a poor copy of a second grade media house & their correspondents are again highly misinformed & ignorant. Not only that, they seem to follow a cut/copy/paste system, without any analysis done on their own. I dont blame them, they are of a mediocre kind. I totally blame the editor, who seems more mediocre than them. Or is it that their anthem is to report everything in bad light,so that the common man sees the sensational part only to blame successive governments.

  15. The print the level of ur reporting is really like kindergarten student… This package includes lots of hell fire missile, life time service and many more ammunitions… This is not just being paid for 6 Apache it includes all other things.. Spare parts and extra radars.. God who gave you approval for a media outlet..level of ur press is falling day by day

  16. The cost is always high in India be it a road construction in nukad or billion dollar military deal as brokers n politicians are sitting to make money.

  17. Marut, the HF 24, was reportedly Mach 2 capable even in the 1960s when no Asian countries had such capable fighter plane. 147 were produced as per Wikipedia. Why weren’t they modified with latest technology in materials and weapons?
    Why and how were they junked after just 20 yrs when our pilots can fly 40+ yr old Canberra and Jaguars?

  18. The article is based on journos conception. Poor non technology journo borrow info from unsatisfied souls of Services.and rival compititors.No in-depth research in news nor analysis. Sad Indian Journalists n media. Pl do sufficient homework n research b4 publishing.

  19. This article is totally misleading and seems like they( print) don’t have any knowledge about defense deals and just riding a false propoganda… really disappointing…

  20. This article is totally misleading and seems like they( print) don’t have any knowledge about defense deals and just riding a false propoganda… really disappointing…

  21. Read this article and I am really amazed of the writer is having any knowledge about defence purchases. This was a follow on order. But Army and IAF have different mission objectives for which they need different configurations and different weapons package. This makes the most of the difference. Study first in deep before writing about defence purchases. In power is Modi and yes he is a hard negotiator.

  22. This article is somewhat miss leading the purchase of 6 new Ah-64E apache helicopter total value is $600 million which is about 4,320 crores Rupees which include everything from logistics to training and every simulation & $2.4 Billion is for other 24 helicopters which buyed for multirole purposes for the navy including submarine detection & Destroying enemies subs.

  23. I am 73 years old. In my life time,,so many deals went haywire due to delays created like this and indicisions. Presumably with one chief now being the chief of all wings should make life easier. There are many experts from India working in aviation fields abroad. Bring them back and create make in India true. We need our aircraft engine,long range automated field guns,subs and what not.start today without delays.

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