In a major boost to India’s air defence capabilities, first eight of the 22 US-made Apache attack helicopters were inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) at the Pathankot Air Base in Punjab on Tuesday.

President Boeing India, Salil Gupte, handed over the ceremonial key of Apache AH-64E attack helicopter to Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa.

Prior to their induction into the IAF, the Apache choppers received a water cannon salute.

It was a ceremonial induction with a “pooja” organised ahead of the remarkable event.

India is the 16th nation in the world to be operating the Apache attack helicopters.

Ahead of the induction, IAF PRO, Anupam Banerjee said that the 22 aircraft will come in a phased manner and all will be inducted into the Indian Air Force. “We had attack helicopters earlier, but this aircraft brings in lethal firepower with great accuracy,” he said.

Addressing the event, IAF chief BS Dhanoa said that it is one of the most fierce attack helicopters in the world, capable of performing many missions. “Today with the induction of Apache AH-64E, the Indian Air Force has upgraded its inventory to the latest generation of attack helicopters,” he added.

Dhanoa and Air Marshal R Nambiar also inspected the Apache 64E choppers, which have been inducted into the 125 Helicopter Unit ‘Gladiators’ of the Indian Air Force.

According to President Boeing India, Salil Gupte, these are the same AH-64E variant used by the US Army.

India had in 2015 signed a multi-billion dollar contract with the US government and Boeing for 22 Apache helicopters.

The helicopter has been customized to suit IAF’s future requirements and would have significant capability in mountainous terrain.

The helicopter has the capability to carry out precision attacks at standoff ranges and operate in hostile airspace with threats from the ground, the IAF had earlier said in a statement after the IAF received its first Apache Guardian attack helicopter at a production facility of Boeing in Arizona in May.

It said the ability of these helicopters, to transmit and receive the battlefield picture, to and from the weapon systems through data networking makes it a lethal acquisition.

The 22 Apache AH 64D Longbow helicopters are one of the most advanced multi-role combat helicopters, featuring all-weather and night fighting features, ability to track up to 128 targets in less than a minute and engage with 16, besides stealth characteristics, advanced sensors and beyond visual range missiles.

Additionally, the Defence Ministry had in 2017 approved the procurement of six Apache helicopters along with weapons systems from Boeing at a cost of Rs. 4,168 crore for the Army.

The AH-64E Apache for the Indian Air Force completed successful first flights in July 2018. The first batch of Indian Air Force crew began their training to fly the Apache in the US in 2018.

Boeing has delivered more than 2,200 Apaches to customers around the world since the aircraft entered production and India is the 14th nation to select it for its military.