The Made-In-India Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF) represents a new chapter, according to Air Chief Marshal (ACM) V. R. Chaudhari on October 3, 2022, when the twin-engine helicopter was formally integrated into the 143 Helicopter Unit ‘Dhanush’ at Jodhpur Air Force Station.
According to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, the LCH fully fits the needs of both the Army and the Air Force. Last Monday, the Army received its first LCH in Bengaluru.
“The LCH is on par with or better than similar attack helicopters available around the world. The Unit was particularly chosen based on professional competency to achieve rapid operationalization “ACM Chaudhari stated during the induction ceremony.
CB Ananthakrishnan, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) stated at the ceremony that four LCH had been delivered to the IAF and four more will be delivered this fiscal year.
He added that more than 200 vendors are active in the production of subsystems and components, in addition to 70 suppliers involved in indigenization. HAL has already begun extensive production planning in preparation for exports, he noted.
On March 30, 2022, the IAF and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) signed a deal for ten LSP as part of Made-In-India initiative, and the 143 Helicopter Unit ‘Dhanush,’ which operates the LCH, was raised on June 1, 2022.
The HAL twin-engine LCH is a specialized combat helicopter of the 5-8 tonne class. It was conceived following the 1999 Kargil conflict when there was a perceived need for such a dedicated platform capable of operating at high altitudes.
It is the only attack helicopter in the world that can land and take off at an altitude of 5,000 m (16,400 ft) while carrying a heavy load of weapons and fuel, significantly enhancing the IAF and Army’s firepower in high-altitude zones. The helicopter has a combat radius of 500 kilometers and a service ceiling of 21,000 feet, making it suited for use in high-altitude parts of the Siachen glacier.
The helicopter’s first prototype took to the skies on March 29, 2010, and has subsequently undergone rigorous testing and evaluation. The LCH is equipped with a 20mm nose cannon, 70mm rockets, an anti-tank guided missile called ‘Dhruvastra,’ and an air-to-air missile called ‘Mistral-2,’ which has a maximum interception range of 6.5km.
In March 2020, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the procurement of 15 Limited Series Production (LSP) variants of the LCH at a cost of 3,887 crores, as well as infrastructure sanctions totaling 377 crores. Ten of the 15 helicopters are for the IAF and five are for the Army.
In addition to the AH-64E Apache helicopters currently in service, the LCH will eventually be deployed along the Line of Actual Control with China. Both the Army and the IAF have a greater need for LCH, and the contract has yet to be finalized.
The Army raised its first LCH Unit on June 1, 2022, in Bengaluru, using one LCH at a time, and the Unit will relocate to Eastern Command along the LAC when it is completed by the end of next year. As previously reported by The Hindu, the Army aims to buy 95 LCH, with seven groups, each with ten helicopters, to be deployed for mountain fighting.
According to the Defence Ministry, the LSP LCH has around 45% indigenous content by value, which will gradually increase to more than 55% for the Series Production version. Light combat helicopters are already prohibited from entering the country.
The LCH has the agility, maneuverability, extended range, high altitude performance, and round-the-clock, all-weather combat capability to perform roles such as Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (DEAD), Counter Insurgency (CI) operations, high altitude bunker busting operations, counter-insurgency operations in the jungle and urban environments, and support to ground forces.
The LCH incorporates cutting-edge technology and systems compatible with stealth features such as reduced visual, aural, radar, and infrared signatures, as well as crashworthiness features for improved survivability, according to officials.
The IAF employs the older Mi-25 and Mi-35 Russian attack helicopters, which are being phased out, and has received 22 AH-64E Apache assault helicopters from the United States. The Army will also begin receiving Apache attack helicopters in early 2023, six of which were contracted under an estimated $800 million deal from the United States in February 2020.
In total, the IAF operates over 500 rotary platforms, including approximately 90 Mi-17s, over 130 Mi-17V5s, over 70 ALHs, including the weaponized variant, 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, one squadron of Mi-35 attack helicopters, and 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy lift helicopters.
The Army Aviation currently operates utility helicopters but no dedicated attack helicopters, however, it does deploy a weaponized Advanced Light Helicopter.
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