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India’s Plans to Buy Helicopter Gunships for Afghanistan

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India’s Plans to Buy Helicopter Gunships for Afghanistan

New Delhi is purportedly considering purchasing second-hand Mi-35 helicopters for the Afghan military.

India’s Plans to Buy Helicopter Gunships for Afghanistan
Credit: U.S. Air Force

The Indian government is purportedly interested in purchasing used Russian-made Mi-35 helicopter gunships for the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF) at the special request of the Afghan government headed by Ashraf Ghani, according to Indian media reports.

The Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is expected to dispatch a team to either Serbia or Ukraine—both countries operate Soviet-era armed rotary aircraft—to discuss the possible procurement of an unknown number of used Mi-35 attack helicopters.

India’s bid to bolster Afghan close air support capabilities highlights the growing military cooperation between the two countries.

India completed the delivery of four Mi-25 (Mi-24D) helicopters and three HAL Cheetah light utility helicopters to the Afghan Air Force (AAF) in December 2016. It was the first time that India had transferred lethal military equipment to Afghanistan.

However, all seven Indian-supplied helicopters and five Mi-35 helicopter gunships, supplied by the Czech Republic in 2008, are currently grounded and need repairs.

NATO countries cannot purchase Russian-made hardware–including the parts needed to repair Soviet-era helicopters–due to Western-imposed sanctions on Russia. As a result, the Indian initiative will be of particular importance for the ANSDF.

As I reported previously, the Indian MoD dispatched a team of aviation experts to Kabul in 2016 to assess the needs of the AAF. The experts concluded that it would cost about $50 million to procure spare parts and make repairs on 11 grounded Mi-35 helicopters and seven military transport aircraft.  The 11 helicopters were likely part of larger Soviet arms deliveries to the then Afghan government as I noted last year:

During the Afghan-Soviet War, the Soviet Union delivered over 100 Mi-24s — the Mi-35 is the export version of the Mi-24 — to Afghan government forces. Most of the helicopters were destroyed during the subsequent civil war; however, a number of gunships remained in service until the 2001 toppling of the Taliban regime. Despite being inoperable and slowly rusting away at AAF airbases, these helicopters were not scrapped.

The AAF does not operate Russian-made military transport aircraft, but until 2009 it flew a number of Antonov An-32 twin-engined turboprop planes.

Russia has purportedly already agreed to take over maintenance of the Indian-supplied Mi-25s and M-17 transport helicopters. Russia might also supply Afghanistan with an unknown number of Mi-35 (possibly the M or “Hind E” variant) attack helicopters (See: “Russia to Sell Modern Attack Helicopters to Afghanistan”).

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, asked the Indian government to step up its military aid to Afghanistan in 2016 specifically singling out air assets.

The AAF is in the process of inducting 159 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. It will also take delivery of 150 new MD530 F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters by 2022 bringing the total number of MD530 Fs operated by the ANSDF to almost 180.

“A Pentagon plan calls for an increase of the AAF from currently 124 aircraft up to 259, and from 8,000 personnel to 12,000,” I noted in September 2017. “The AAF is expected to receive $7 billion in support over the next four years, according to a senior U.S. military officer.”