Committing itself to a greater role in the government's fight against Maoists, the Indian Air Force on Thursday said it had sought permission from the defence ministry to open fire at the Left extremists if its helicopters or aircrew came under attack.
"The IAF has sought permission from the defence ministry to open fire in self-defence, whenever our helicopters or aircrew operating in the Maoist-infested areas come under attack," Air Chief Marshal P V Naik told media persons.
Describing the Naxal attacks on IAF assets and aircrew as a matter of grave concern, Naik said: "The air force, of course, has a greater role to play in the offensive against Naxals, be it higher reconnaissance or surveillance, troop movement and also for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle recce."
On the use of air power to track down Maoists, the IAF chief said it would be a "tricky" decision, as the risks of collateral damage in the form of innocent citizens being hit was quite high during such operations.
Referring to the US using its drones against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said, "It must be noted that these attacks have taken place outside the US territory. Only in Swat, Pakistan had used its forces to attack the terror groups."
"In our country, it would be difficult to distinguish between good and bad guys. A decision needs to be taken at the highest level before we go in for the attack mode," he said.
Naik said for the IAF to carry out an offensive using its air power, it would require "120 percent" intelligence.
He said internal security has been plaguing the minds of all and the IAF was already involved in low-intensity conflicts, be it Jammu and Kashmir, the north-east or the Dantewada forests in Chhattisgarh.The IAF, he said, flew helicopters with armour protection and also provided its men with bulletproof jackets while operating in conflict zones, and also sanitised a 1.5 sq km area during take-offs and landings.