In an interesting development, an Apache attack helicopter of the Indian Air Force (IAF) was spotted at a base in Sikkim, near the border with Tibet, last week, even as the border disengagement with China was underway in eastern Ladakh.
In a picture posted by the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Defence in Shillong on Twitter, along with the announcement of the visit of Air Marshal Amit Dev, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Air Command to Sikkim, the IAF officer can be seen seated in an Apache attack helicopter.
According to this report, the attack helicopter was present at a “forward base in North Sikkim district, a few kilometers from the Line of Actual Control”.
The development is significant because this is the first image of an Apache attack helicopter of the IAF in Sikkim, and could be signal for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — it comes just weeks after Indian and Chinese border troops clashed near Naku La, a pass in north Sikkim, near the border with Tibet.
The attack helicopter, reports say, was part of a unit of Apaches deployed by the IAF in the eastern sector, which includes Sikkim. While one unit of IAF’s AH-64Es is based at Pathankot in Punjab, the other is based at Jorhat in Assam.
India had contracted for 22 Apaches for the IAF in 2015, and all the attack helicopters had been delivered by July 2020. A deal for six Apaches for the Army was signed in February last year, and the numbers are likely to increase further.