New Delhi: The government has hired two helicopters from a private firm to provide air support to security forces deployed in the jungles of Chhattisgarh and its border areas which are hotbeds of Maoist activities.
The much-awaited deployment of these air assets has come after more than a year of hectic efforts to find more helicopters for troops tackling Left-wing extremism (LWE).
CRPF has inked the deal for leasing two private choppers which will not only carry troops for reinforcements but also evacuate battle causalities and supply arms and rations.
A team of two Bell choppers has been based at Jagdalpur in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, which is among the worst Naxal violence-affected areas, for operations under the command of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the lead force for combating the LWE challenge.
"Two private choppers have been hired on contract for aiding the forces in anti-Naxal operations. The flying machines have begun operations and will be based in south Bastar," a senior officer said.
The private firm which is providing the choppers has experience of operating in the Maoist-affected zones, albeit for ferrying civilians and VVIPs.
"We have been operating in Chhattisgarh since 2008. This is the first time we will be helping the security forces in a full-fledged role. The sorties will be executed by the CRPF," Ajay Veer Singh, Managing Director of the Delhi-based Dhillon Aviation Pvt Ltd, which owns the choppers, told PTI.
The firm has deployed its own pilots and crew for the operation, repair and overhauling of the flying machines.
The helicopters, while operating in these areas, will land and take-off from helipads which will be sanitised and secured by CRPF and state police.
"The choppers, even though only two, will be of precious help during operations or for evacuating casualties, thereby saving numerous lives as time is at a premium in this theatre of operations.
"The helicopters will also be used to provide rations and other essential items to troops in the difficult-to-reach areas of Chhattisgarh and its border areas with Odisha and Andhra Pradesh which are hotbeds of Naxal activity," the officer said. CRPF has been pitching for getting more choppers to add
to the existing fleet of 11 helicopters deployed for anti-Maoist operations by Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Border Security Force (BSF).
With the continuous increase in the number of battalions and men in anti-Naxal operations, security forces have been facing a crunch in terms of chopper sorties for helping troops in such terrain which is marked by difficult topography dotted with thick jungles. With the addition of these two choppers, they will get about 30-40 more flying hours.
A pair of new Mi-17-V5 military choppers are also expected to be inducted for these operations by the middle of this year after they arrive from Russia and join the BSF fleet by March.
The latest Mi-series helicopters have an on-board weather radar along with state-of-the-art autopilot functions and latest night vision devices, which are not available in the existing Mi-17s.
Helicopters are the most important force-multiplier when it comes to providing logistical support to the forces deployed in LWE operations.