India’s helicopter headaches

Earlier this week, I noted that India had decided to withdraw its military helicopters from the UN missions in the DR Congo and Sudan, and suggested this “could signal a broader Indian disengagement from UN ops, with serious consequences for the organization’s overall operational abilities.”  Here are some updates on the problem.

(To clarify: we’re talking about 25 helicopters in total.)

Yesterday, I had a fascinating chat with Erin Weir of Refugees International, who has just returned from the Congo.  She explained that although the Indian helicopters are still there, they are already pretty much out of action.  When UN forces want to set up a new base in tricky country, they can no longer send in helicopters to secure the area.  The peacekeepers have to go in overland – which is obviously slower and riskier.

But why is India pulling its choppers out?  My grumbling on the topic has engendered a detailed response over at Pragmatic Euphony, an insightful blog on Indian security.  There is, the post argues, “no conspiracy to snub the UN”.  India simply doesn’t have enough helicopters to meet all its needs:

Firstly, all the Indian helicopters on UN duty come from the fleet of the Indian Air Force. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in its audit report has brought out a deficit of 26 per cent in the total availability of helicopters compared to the numbers required for achieving current operational projections. Category-wise shortfalls were most apparent in the case of attack helicopters where the holdings were 46 per cent below the actual requirement. The report comes down harshly on IAF for diverting its helicopters to the UN when its own operational requirements were not being met.

[ . . . ]

Secondly, India desperately needs more helicopters for its internal security operations against the Maoists. Although there might be no firm proposal as of now to divert these UN-returned helicopters for anti-Maoist operations, it is highly plausible that some of them may be diverted for anti-Maoist operations.

[ . . . ]

Finally, contrary to the commonly-held belief, India is actually making financial losses by deploying helicopters on UN peacekeeping assignments.

Check out the original for links to all the sources involved. This adds up to convincing case that Indian policy in this case is driven more by “India’s own security goals than by any attempts to snub or undermine the UN or UN peacekeeping.”

I accept that, but I still have questions.  If and when India manages to fill its helicopter gap, will it consider sending more air assets to UN missions?  Or will it conclude that such deployments are more trouble than it’s worth? If the first scenario proves correct, fair enough. But the second seems rather more plausible – bad news for the UN.