The Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Navy have deployed Mi-17V5 helicopters to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance sorties over the Southern temple town of Sabrimala from Monday.
“Intelligence reports that extremist elements could use forest routes to asail the temple or pilgrims groups had prompted the unusual move. The intelligence forecasts were credible but not specific on details. However, they elaborated on certain operational tactics terrorist could adopt, Inspector General of Police, Thiruvananthapuram Range, Manoj Abraham was quoted as saying by the Hindu Monday.
The State police have found the reports too compelling to ignore in the background of global terrorist threat. They had developed a counter with the aid of the defence forces, top officials said.
Official sources said that at least three helicopters would be involved in the operation. They would fly out from bases in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. The gunships would have Army paratroopers on board. The State police commandos with local terrain knowledge would accompany them as point-men.
The IAF would survey the helipad at Nilackal for potential use as forward operating and logistics base.
The gunships could remain air-borne for several hours without refuelling. Auxiliary fuel tanks enhanced their endurance. The helicopters were kitted out with thermal and long range imaging devices that equip them to conduct wide area surveillance under varied weather and light conditions.
The MI-17 V-5 were famously used by the National Security Guards to carry out an airborne assault on Chabad House which was taken over by terrorists during the September 2008 sea-borne armed suicide attack in Mumbai. They were also used to ferry troops to the LoC for “surgical strikes on terrorist camps” in September this year.
Officials said the armoured helicopters would carry air-to-ground missiles and machine guns along with surveillance equipment. They would be at least 36 special troops on board with assault weapons, body armour, and allied weaponry. The police would study the reconnaissance reports in detail to calibrate and optimise their deployment on the ground.