The Army has moved its first Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) squadron to Missamari, Assam, in the eastern sector near the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The LCH, India’s first indigenously designed and developed attack helicopter, is also the first dedicated attack helicopter operated by the Army.
“Two helicopters have moved there on November 1. The third helicopter will move by November-end and fourth by mid-December. Army will receive the 5 th LCH by January-end. The squadron will be fully operational by then,” a defence source told The Hindu. The Air Force raised its first LCH squadron at Jodhpur in October.
The Army raised the 351 Army Aviation Squadron to operate the LCH on June 1, 2022 at Bengaluru and received the first LCH end-September. The shortest aerial distance of the LAC from Missamari is around 250 km.
The Army LCH will be armed with 20 mm nose gun, 70 mm rockets, helicopter-launched anti-tank guided missile and a new air-to-air missile different from the ‘Mistral-2’ from MBDA on the IAF LCH. However, as of now, both the missiles are yet to be deployed on the LCH. The Army plans to embed attack helicopters with all pivot formations to provide them with close anti-armour support.
The twin-engine LCH designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is a 5-8 tonne class dedicated combat helicopter conceptualised after the 1999 Kargil conflict. The helicopter has a combat radius of 500 km and a service ceiling of 21,000 feet which makes it ideal to operate at high-altitude areas including Siachen glacier.
In March 2020, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved procurement of 15 Limited Series Production (LSP) variants of LCH at the cost of ₹3,887 crore along with infrastructure sanctions worth ₹377 crore. Of the 15 helicopters, 10 are for IAF and five for the Army.
Eventually, the Army is looking for another 95 LCH and the IAF another 65 of them. However, the contract is yet to be worked out and their induction is spread over the next 10-15 years, officials said. As reported earlier, the Army plans to eventually deploy 70 of its LCH in the mountains.
Army Aviation has three brigades at Leh, Missamari and Jodhpur operating around 145 indigenous Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH), 75 of which are the Rudra weaponised variants, and around 190 ageing Cheetah, Chetak and Cheetal helicopters. Another 25 ALH Mk-III are on order which will be inducted within two years. The Army will also start receiving the Apache attack helicopters in early 2024, six of which have been contracted under an estimated $800 million deal from Boeing in February 2020. In addition, the Army is also pushing a case for 11 more Apaches for which negotiations are under way.