Light Combat Helicopters

Published on - August 30, 2022

Source: TOI

Context: 

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to formally raise its first unit of indigenous Light Combat Helicopters (LCHs) in Jodhpur in the first week of October coinciding with Air Force Day on October 8. Ten LCHs will be inducted in the first batch completing one unit.

Background:

  1. The IAF operates the older Russian Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, of which one squadron has been phased out following the induction of 22 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters.
  2. The existing Mi-35 squadron is in the process of being sent for overhaul which will extend its life by many years.
  3. The Army had already raised its first LCH squadron on June 1 in Bengaluru.
  4. The Army plans to acquire 95 LCHs of which seven units, each having 10 helicopters, are planned to be deployed for combat role in the mountains.
  5. In March 2022, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had approved procurement of 15 Limited Series Production (LSP) variants of the LCH at the cost of ₹3,887 crore along with infrastructure sanctions worth ₹377 crore. Of the 15 helicopters, 10 are for the IAF and five for the Army. The LCH is designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
  6. LCH LSP is an indigenously designed, developed and manufactured state-of-the-art modern combat helicopter containing 45% indigenous content by value which will progressively increase to more than 55% for Series Production Version.
  7. The LCH is the first dedicated attack helicopter of the Army, which otherwise operates 75 Rudra helicopters, the weaponised variant of the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter.
  8. It will start receiving Apache attack helicopters from early 2024 onwards, six of which have been contracted under an estimated $800 mn deal from the U.S. It is also in talks with Boeing for the procurement of 11 additional Apache helicopters

When was the LCH project envisaged?

The genesis of the LCH lies in the Kargil conflict of 1999 when the absence of an attack helicopter which could operate in ultra-high altitude areas was felt acutely by the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The intruding Pakistan Army troops had occupied various heights on the Indian side of the Line of Control but the existing Russian-made attack helicopters in the inventory of the Indian military did not have the operational ceiling which permitted their deployment at those heights.

The IAF was forced to use the MI-17 helicopters in a modified role against those heights and suffered the loss of a helicopter when it was fired upon by the enemy.

It was in 2006 that the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) announced its intention to develop a LCH which could operate in the harsh desert conditions as well as the high altitude areas of Ladakh including the Siachen Glacier.

What are the major features of LCH?

  • According to HAL, the LCH has “the maximum possible commonality with Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH)”.
  • The attack helicopter has a pilot and co-pilot sitting in tandem position (one behind the other).
  • The helicopter has several stealth features and has armour protection, night attack capability and crash worthy landing gear to give it better survivability.
  • It is powered by two Shakti engines and has a maximum take off weight of 5,800 kg.
  • With a maximum speed of 268 km per hour it has a range of 550 km and an operational ceiling of 6.5 kms.
  • Armed with air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, LCH also has a 20 mm gun and 70 mm rockets. With a full glass cockpit, the LCH has an Electronic Warfare suite and helmet mounted display for the flying crew.
  • The LCH is well suited for anti-tank role wherein it can fly low and fast to attack enemy armour columns and destroy them.
  • As per HAL, it is also suitable for scout role wherein it can fly ahead of advancing columns of the Army and detect enemy presence.
  • It is also suitable for air defence roles and destruction of enemy air defence assets. It can also be used in urban warfare missions and combat search and rescue operations.