Sending helicopters for back-up could mean hundreds of soldiers are needed, say private security firms
Sending helicopters for back-up to fill fuel tankers from warships has the potential to dramatically increase the size of a fleet in the Indian Ocean that feeds regional militaries, prompting concern that hundreds of troops could be required to drive the trucks.
Two contract companies operating in one of the most volatile waters in the world say sending helicopters for backup could mean hundreds of troops were needed to drive the trucks. The companies are acting for the Indian army, though they were not authorized to talk to the media.
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They point to comments by the Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, in February that the navy had sent “several hundred” navy personnel to keep the pipelines running.
Swaraj’s remarks came after Pakistani warships, two self-propelled howitzers and five jet fighter squadrons were diverted from pursuing militants near the border with Afghanistan to protect pipelines belonging to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group.
A spokesman for the Indian navy, D.K. Joshi, denied that an “eight-to-10-member special force” of navy personnel had been assigned to guard the ships. The special force, operated by a different company, was already doing security for refineries and pipelines, he said.
“We have ample options to guard our interests on the eastern side of the Pakistan border,” Joshi said, referring to India’s frontier with China.
“To continue the current arrangements would be counter-productive, if not useless. We must exercise options that safeguard our national interests.”
The Indian navy has been backed by offshore naval and coast guard detachments to prevent extremists from attacking pipelines. It is also supporting air and sea forces from the Indian air force, army and ground forces in the ongoing counter-terrorism operations in the western state of Maharashtra.
The helicopters, he said, “are not being used by the navy for any [military] purpose or surveillance”. “They are being deployed to defend the facilities in Karachi.”
The helicopters have “not been made operational”, according to the companies operating the contract. “They will be deployed only once Pakistan has taken other steps and needs additional manpower,” one of the companies, Davie Aviation, said in an email.
“The army currently mobilizes around 40 military personnel to guard the ships,” said Saorudeen Thain, chief executive of Chhattisgarh Verification Service, one of the private security firms operating in the area.
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India has in recent years built up its military in the region, creating and maintaining dozens of bases, including the largest in Afghanistan. With one of the largest fleets of military aircraft in the world, that fleet is accustomed to operating with a relatively short supply of fuel.
With demand rising by the day for transportation by ship and ship by helicopter, it was becoming increasingly expensive for government agencies to repair ships. “If you don’t supply fuel to warships, you need to recommission them or maintain them,” said a private security company employee, who requested anonymity.
“Today they have to [repair] diesel generators at large costs as 80% of the cost of any ship is due to fuel.”
Indon helicopters are usually flown by combat planes, while the air force is in need of refuelling aircraft for over 14,000 flights a year, largely operating its fleet of Mirage fighter jets.