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Indian Air force seeks permission to fire at Maoists

Posted by Admin on October 1, 2009

IAFThe Indian Air Force has appealed to the government to allow its helicopters currently deployed in anti-Naxalite operations to fire in self defence. “We have put the case up to the Ministry of Defence to fire back in self-defence,” air force chief Air Chief Marshal P V Naik said. The air chief was addressing the media at the chief’s customary air force week media briefing.

The IAF lost a flight engineer to ground-based Naxal fire in November last year after which the air force has been taking several tactical measures to protect helicopters and crew. Senior IAF officials said only the Russian-built Mi-17 medium lift helicopters were being used as they were armored. Crew have been issued bullet-proof vests.

The November 2008 incident occurred in Bijapur district in Chhatisgarh where an IAF Mi-17 deployed for state election duty came under machine gun fire from the Maoists. The bullets hit the rotors, engine and fuselage, killing a flight engineer Sergeant Mustafa Ali but the pilot managed to take off to safety. Senior IAF officials say the incident illustrates the vulnerability of helicopters to ground-based fire particularly during landing and take off. The measures being contemplated include fitting the Mi-17s with 7.62 mm Light and Medium Machine Guns to be able to return fire in self-defence or in the general area of the source of the fire to allow the chopper to land or take off safely.

The air chief, however, ruled out the deployment of IAF assets in an offensive role stating that such a decision would have to be taken ‘at a very very high level’ because it was against Indian citizens and only if the opposing party was declared an enemy of the state.

The IAF has deployed around six Mi-17s for anti-Naxal operations but mainly for ferrying police and paramilitary personnel and in casualty evacuation roles. Air Chief Marshal Naik said that the IAF was insisting on 1.5 km sanitization of the landing ground, 500 metres more than required to ensure no armed Maoists could target their choppers. A senior IAF official said that the IAF had ‘good faith’ in the ability of the state police personnel to be able to secure the landing grounds.

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