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The Indian Air Force (IAF) is upgrading its fleet of older Mi-17 helicopters with homegrown armour in New Delhi to survive fire from snipers and small guns during close-quarters missions, such as in Naxal-infested areas.

The latest Mi-17 models, the V5s, feature Russian clip-on, clip-off armour, according to sources in the defence and security establishment, but the previous variants do not. They added that the new armour being purchased from the government-run Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited (MIDHANI) is significantly more lightweight and robust than the Russian option.

According to the sources, all brand-new Mi-17 V5 helicopters used to combat Naxal operations already have armour protection in the form of extra plates installed on the aircraft.

“The Mi-17 V5s included extra armour defence. However, they were absent from previous Mi-17 models. Now that they are lighter, the IAF is buying them from Midhani, according to a source in the defence industry.

According to sources, locally produced Russian armour is made of composite, which makes it 40% lighter than steel-made Russian armour.

A helicopter that is lighter in weight than one that is equipped with greater Russian armour can carry more personnel during missions and travel at higher altitudes and faster speeds.

This also implies that it will be more difficult to fire small guns at these lightweight choppers.

According to sources, the armour made by Midhani is also clip on and clip off, meaning it can be put on and removed off based on operational requirements.

HAL Prepares To Replace Mi-17S With New Helicopters

Approximately 250 Mi-17 helicopters, which can accommodate up to 24 passengers or 36 soldiers wearing full battle gear, are currently in use by the IAF. The Mi-8 series of helicopters, which entered India in 1971 and were deactivated in 2017, served as its ancestor.

The earlier iterations of these helicopters were supposed to be phased out starting in 2028. The most recent models, the Mi-17 V5 (introduced in 2011), were supposed to be the last to be phased out.

The state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and the French defence giant Safran are also in discussions to jointly and domestically produce a new engine that will power India’s plans to produce its own medium weight military helicopters.

Eventually, these helicopters will take the place of the Mi-17 V5s.

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