The US-made Chinook heavy-lift helicopters being acquired by the Indian Air Force will be based at the Chandigarh Air Force Station, for which new facilities are being established.
India had signed a deal with the US in September 2015 for 15 CH-47 Chinook helicopters, with an option for another four machines. These are expected to start arriving in 2018. The deal includes 22 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
“A certain number of Chinooks will be based in Chandigarh,” a senior IAF officer said. “Two hangars and a maintenance bay along with associated technical and logistics facilities are to be set up here for the purpose,” he said. The work is estimated to cost Rs 150 crore, sources said.
Chandigarh will be the third airbase in the Western Air Command to house new aircraft. The IAF has earmarked the Sarsawa airbase near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh for the first squadron of French Rafale fighters, while the Bhisiana airbase near Bathinda in Punjab will house Netra, the new indigenous airborne early warning and control aircraft.
Chinooks, which have a payload capacity of around 10 tonnes will provide a much-needed fillip to the IAF vertical heavy-lift capability. This role was earlier being fulfilled by the Soviet-era Mi-26 helicopters, also based at Chandigarh.
The IAF had four Mi-26s, but at present is left with just one serviceable machine. Chinooks will airlift artillery, vehicles, road construction and engineer equipment as well as troops and supplies to mountainous sectors in the north and North-East.
Chandigarh is no stranger to the Chinook. Three of them belonging to the British Royal Air Force had been airlifted here from the United Kingdom for onward move to Nepal for flood relief operations in 2015. After being re-assembled and test-flown here, they spent a few days before being recalled home.