India to restore grounded aircraft in Afghanistan

After supplying four attack helicopters to Afghanistan, India is quietly moving to qualitatively scale up military assistance in terms of long-term spares and support.

This involves a trilateral framework with Russia, officials confirmed to The Hindu who said it is likely to be discussed by Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi when they meet on the sidelines of the sixth Heart of Asia (HoA) ministerial conference in Amritsar later this week, which will be attended by Russia as well.

Two Indian Air Force technical teams visited Afghanistan last month to assess the requirements for spares and maintenance to restore the Soviet-era helicopters and transport aircraft lying there, defence and diplomatic sources told The Hindu.

“There are at least 40-50 helicopters of various types and some An-32 medium transport aircraft which have been grounded from a long time for need of spares. We have asked Indian help in refurbishing them,” diplomatic sources stated.

The teams were tasked to assess the requirements and submit a report on what can be provided by India from its existing inventory and what needs to be procured from Russia which is the original manufacture of the hardware, a Defence Ministry source said. “Based on that we will work out a model with Russia where they will supply the necessary equipment and we will pay for it,” the source added.

Trilateral cooperation

This effectively formalises the trilateral mechanism which was mooted in 2014 in the backdrop of withdrawal of troops by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) but did not make progress at that time due to reluctance of the then UPA government.

Kabul had long been requesting India for offensive military hardware and has several times presented a wish list of urgent military hardware. A revised list was handed over to India in August during the visit of the Chief of Afghan National Army General Qadam Shah Shahim and was discussed at the highest level during Mr. Ghani’s visit in September.

Priority items on the list include utility and attack helicopters, tanks, artillery, ammunition and spares, in addition to help in reviving some of the Soviet-era equipment and factories in Afghanistan.

No new hardware

“The current assessment is specifically for spares and support for the helicopters and aircraft with Afghanistan and does not include supply of new hardware from India. We are waiting for a response from India,” sources said and added that the idea is to extend it other areas as well in future.

India has supplied three Cheetal utility helicopters, and in a major policy shift, agreed to transfer four Mi-25 attack helicopters from its inventory last year. While India seems to be open to supplying lethal hardware, involving Moscow is inevitable as most of the equipment is manufactured in Russia.

This was evident in the case of an Mi-25 helicopter that was grounded due to lack of spares which had to be procured from Russia.

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