Chandigarh: One set of individuals who will certainly not be applauding the upcoming April 2 diamond jubilee salutations commemorating the commissioning of Chetak light utility helicopters into the Indian Air Force in 1962 will be the Army Wives Agitation Group.
According to the government’s Press Information Bureau, the congratulatory event at Air Force Station Hakimpet in Hyderabad later this week, to memorialise Chetak’s induction into service six decades earlier, will be presided over by defence minister Rajnath Singh and attended by Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari and other senior serving and retired IAF officers.
But, Meenal Wagh Bhosale, the founder of the Army Wives Agitation Group, which comprises some 114 spouses of mostly serving Army Aviation Corps (AAC) pilots and engineers responsible for operating and maintaining the legacy, licence-built and French-origin Chetak (Aerospatiale Alouette III) and the follow-on, Cheetah (Aerospatiale SA-315B Lama) helicopters, strongly disagrees.
“There is no reason whatsoever to celebrate the continuance in operational service of flying coffins like the Chetak helicopters, 60 years after they were first received,” said the Nasik-based wife of an AAC officer.
Both single-engine helicopters, which were licence-built by the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) since 1962 and 1977 respectively, were now ‘hopelessly obsolete’, Bhosale declared. They have turned into “widow makers” and “death traps”, she contended. She claimed that some 42 of both these helicopter types had crashed between 2001 and 2014, killing around 80 young AAC officers and leaving behind equally youthful widows, and in some instances, posthumously born children.
Furthermore, remonstrated Bhosale, despite assurances from the Ministry of Defence and the Indian Army Chief of Staff that both the outdated light utility helicopters would soon be retired and replaced by more modern and safer platforms, they not only continued to remain operational, but now were even being applauded. “We (the Group) appeal to the prime minister to end the unrelenting stress, trauma and tragedy these helicopters are continuing to generate for numerous AAC and IAF families and retire them at the soonest,” she stated.
Alongside the IAF, the AAC has employed the bulk of Chetak and Cheetah helicopters following its formation in late 1986. Currently it is believed to operate around 60 and 120 of the two light utility helicopters for assorted missions like transporting men and material, casualty evacuation, search and rescue, aerial survey and patrolling, off-shore and underslung operations.