Boosting the prospect of the Indian Army having its own fleet of combat helicopters, apart from unmanned aerial vehicles, Defence Minister AK Antony has discussed the proposals with army chief General Bikram Singh, his ministry top brass and the army seniors.
At a nearly two-hour meeting in South Block, the seat of Defence ministry and headquarters of the army, Antony also asked the army top brass to focus and give priority to procure equipment and systems that are critically needed by it.
The discussion at the meeting, also attended by Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma and Defence Production Secretary Shekhar Aggarwal, also revolved around the deficiencies and urgent requirements of the army, according to top ministry sources.
The army at present depends on the Indian Air Force (IAF) when it comes to attack helicopters fleet -- IAF has a squadron each of Mi-25 and Mi-35 combat choppers -- to provide its troops on the ground with air power support.
But the army wants to have a combat helicopter fleet of its own, with command and control vested with its commanders, so that their use is effective in a battlefield.
In this regard, the army has proposed that each of its three strike corps -- the sword formations -- should have two attack helicopters squadrons with at least 12 choppers each, while its 10 pivot corps should have at least one squadron of combat choppers each.
In this regard, the army is eyeing the indigenous Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as a possible platform.
This idea floated by the army has had the IAF fuming, as it wants to have control of all air assets with muscle and teeth.
The army has also proposed that all of its corps should have at least two tactical battlefield reconnaissances and surveillance apart from casualty evacuation squadrons with at least 15 choppers each.
For this purpose, the army may in the future look at the HAL-built light utility helicopter and the Dhruv advanced light helicopters.
Antony also sought details of the army's plans for capital acquisition and infrastructure development in the eastern sector bordering China, apart from improving of its unmanned aerial vehicles fleet, night vision and air lift capabilities, sources said.
He also heard out and watched a presentation from General Bikram Singh on capital acquisitions, urgent requirement of ammunition and infrastructure development in north-eastern states, bordering China.
Antony then asked the army to bring about systematic changes in its organisational and procurement processes to achieve the desired output in a short time-span, apart from prioritising and focusing on critical areas of requirements.
He also told Bikram Singh and his team to "utilise the annual budget fully" which the army could not do so in the 2011-12 financial year.
The meeting also reviewed the army's force accretion plans for both the eastern and the western sectors, bordering China and Pakistan, infrastructure development in the north-eastern states, enhancing of the air lift capability in the eastern sector, and increasing of reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities, the sources said.
The meeting at South Block, the seat of the Indian Defence ministry, is a continuation of a process that Antony had initiated in April this year to meet the army top brass for quick acquisition review meetings and finalising of proposals and plans, all following a confidential letter the then army chief General VK Singh wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh highlighting gaps in the force's operational preparedness got leaked.