From braving bullets in the Maoist infested Chhattisgarh, the IAF helicopters played a key role in facilitating the democratic process during the J&K elections. Western Air Command pressed its helicopter fleet into action from 25 November in aid of the J&K election undertaking nearly 300 sorties in over 160 hours. Acceding to request of the Election Commission to fly electoral officers, security personnel & EVMs to far flung & remote regions and back, IAF helicopters have operated to over 25 helipads at altitudes ranging from 6000 feet to 14000 feet above mean sea level.
The Assembly elections were planned in five phases. The first phase was conducted on 25 November while the last phase was on 20 December. The state comprises of high mountainous terrain that poses difficulty for the authorities while conducting polls. IAF plays a major role in reaching these far flung and inaccessible areas. Taking EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines), electoral staff and also transporting the security forces, in time, is a herculean challenge that is overcome by employing the IAF transport and helicopter fleet. Helicopters were utilised for inducting and de-inducting personnel and equipment during the conduct of polls at remote locations at Inshan, Nawapanchi and Sondar, Kargil and the high altitude and remote locations in Zanskar and Laddakh ranges.
The IAF Mi 17V5, ALH and Cheetah helicopters were engaged in this task. For aircrew who undertook these flights, the task provided an opportunity to hone their flying skills. These missions were planned well in advance and pose a lesser challenge than the rescue and relief missions undertaken barely a weeks before the election in the same region. One junior pilot remarked “election task provided us with an opportunity to observe the valleys and the lay of the land which we generally miss out during high pressure tasks that we undertake otherwise”.
Planning, coordination and execution of the election task, spread over five weeks, was undertaken by Advance HQ, AOC J&K “ The planning and execution was flawless and without any hiccups”, remarked a senior officer of HQ WAC who coordinates helicopter operations.