India to help Afghanistan get 6 Soviet-era Attack helicopters back into combat

Two years after announcing its decision to gift Afghanistan four attack helicopters, India has decided to step up its military assistance to the war-torn country and help get six of its Soviet-era combat helicopters back into service.

An Indian Air Force team, it is learnt, recently visited Afghanistan to assess old helicopters in the Afghan Air Force inventory. On return, it concluded that some basic work on the choppers could be done in India, but the complete overhaul would have to be done in Russia.

Government sources told ThePrint that based on this assessment, New Delhi decided to hold talks with Moscow to reach an arrangement through which India could foot the bill for the repairs in Russia.

In 2015, India decided to gift Afghanistan four Mi-25 helicopters, a gesture that was made public when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kabul in December that year.

The Afghan Air Force has deployed the four choppers, all of which were delivered last year, in active combat operations. The feedback from Afghanistan, sources said, has been positive with top Afghan officials conveying that the helicopters give them a definite edge on ground operations.

The success got Afghanistan to push India for more assistance on this front, particular to bring its old Mi-series choppers back into service. In fact, this was initially part of a larger proposal to develop an assistance plan to help Afghanistan repair and overhaul Soviet-era equipment, including armoured vehicles, tanks and artillery guns.

Russia, on the other hand, is also in talks with Afghanistan on ways it can help strengthen its defence capabilities.

Pakistan, however, has been watching the space keenly, and has even opened a different track with Russia on expanding strategic cooperation. This effort is also helped by China, which is currently allied with Pakistan on checking Indian influence in Afghanistan.

In his August articulation of America’s South Asia strategy, US President Donald Trump underlined an increased role for India in Afghanistan. This was further amplified and elaborated by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, including in strengthening Afghan fighting capabilities.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who was in New Delhi last month, also indicated that his government would welcome more helicopters for combat support.

India is currently assessing the costs involved in the repair and overhaul work.

Separately, New Delhi is in bilateral discussions with Moscow to open a repair and overhaul facility here for old Russian-manufactured defence equipment that may not be in production in Russia now.

By: The Print

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