India will formally induct its latest Russian military acquisition, Mi-17V5 helicopters, on February 17, about 10 days from now.
Defence Minister AK Antony will that day formally hand over the keys to the first squadron of Mi-17V5 helicopters to the Indian Air Force, marking its entry into Indian service, at a function to be held at Hindon air base in Ghaziabad just outside the national capital.
The first two squadrons of these helicopters will be based in Bhatinda in Punjab and Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, IAF officers said here.
India had signed a $1.34 billion contract with Russia for supply of 80 Mi-17V5 from the Kazan Helicopters stable. The first 21 of the helicopters have been delivered to the IAF beginning September last year.
"Another six more Mi-17V5 from the ordered choppers will join the fleet by end of March this year," the officers said.
The aircraft will be operated by the IAF to aid movement of Indian Army troops and for Special Forces deployment, logistics, search and rescue operations and for casualty evacuation.
The IAF is already planning for ordering another additional 59 of Mi-17V5 at an estimated cost of $1 billion once the first 80 ordered are delivered by 2014.
Interestingly, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs too is keen on buying six of these helicopters for transport of Para-military forces and their equipment in the districts where Left extremists operate and the troops are fighting the Maoists.
Mi-17V5, designed for cargo lift of about five tonnes or 36 personnel, has an advanced multi-function cockpit display and upgraded twin engines that produce 2,200 horse power each, providing it the capacity to be started after switching off even in areas of altitude over 6,000 metres or 21,000 feet.
These helicopters are meant to replace the aging Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters of the IAF, about 200 of which are in service.
Russia has also in December 2011 supplied nine Mi-17V5 helicopters to Afghanistan for their troops and equipment transport. The Afghanistan order is for 21 helicopters at a total cost of $375 million.
The helicopters are meant for augmenting the Afghan national security forces' operational fleet of Russian Mi-17s.