Induction of the indigenously designed and developed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) adds unique capability to the combat potential of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and marks a new chapter, said Air Chief Marshal (ACM) V. R. Chaudhari on Monday as the twin-engine helicopter was formally inducted into the 143 Helicopter Unit ‘Dhanush’ at the Jodhpur Air Force Station.
“The induction of LCH underlines the fact that just as the country trusts the IAF, the IAF equally trusts the indigenous equipment,” said Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who presided over the induction ceremony.
Stating that the LCH met the requirements of modern warfare and necessary quality parameters under varied conditions of operations, Mr. Singh said it fully met the requirements of both the Army and the Air Force.
The Army had formally received its first LCH in Bengaluru last week.
The ceremony saw a ‘sarwa dharam puja’ followed by a ceremonial water cannon salute to the helicopter. Mr. Singh also took a sortie in the LCH after the induction.
“The LCH is at par or better than similar attack helicopters available globally. Selection of the Unit have been specifically selected based on professional competence to ensure quick operationalisation,” ACM Chaudhari said.
The twin-engine LCH, designed and developed by HAL, is a 5-8 tonne class dedicated combat helicopter. It was conceptualised after the 1999 Kargil conflict when the need for such a dedicated platform capable of operating in high altitudes was felt. It is the only attack helicopter in the world which can land and take-off at an altitude of 5,000 m (16,400 ft) with considerable load of weapons and fuel significantly augmenting the firepower of the IAF and the Army in high altitude areas.
The helicopter has a combat radius of 500 km and go up to a service ceiling of 21,000 feet which makes it ideal to operate at high altitude areas of the Siachen glacier.
Speaking at the event, C.B. Ananthakrishnan, Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL), said four LCH had been delivered to the IAF and four more would be delivered within this financial year.
More than 200 vendors were involved in production of sub-systems and components, apart from 70 vendors involved in indigenisation, he stated. The HAL had also initiated detailed production planning to gear up for exports, he added.
The contract for 10 Limited Series Production (LSP) helicopters was signed between the IAF and the HAL on March 30, 2022, and the 143 Helicopter Unit ‘Dhanush’ which is operating the LCH was raised on June 1, 2022.
The first prototype of the helicopter took first flight on March 29, 2010, and has since undergone extensive testing and evaluation. The LCH is armed with 20 mm nose gun, 70 mm rockets, anti-tank guided missile ‘Dhruvastra’ and air-to-air missile ‘Mistral-2’ of MBDA which has a maximum interception range of 6.5 km.
In March 2020, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) which met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved procurement of 15 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 will eventually be deployed along the Line of Actual Control with China in addition to the AH-64E Apache helicopters in service. Both the Army and the IAF have a larger requirement of the LCH and the contract is yet to be worked out.
The Army raised its first LCH Squadron on June 1, 2022 at Bengaluru with one LCH presently and it will be operationalised in the eastern sector in the first week of November 2022, sources said. As reported by The Hindu earlier, the Army plans to acquire 95 LCH of which seven units, with each having 10 helicopters, are planned to be deployed for combat role in the mountains.
The LSP LCH contains approximately 45% indigenous content by value which will progressively increase to more than 55% for Series Production version, the Defence Ministry had stated earlier. Light combat helicopters have already been included in the import embargo list.
The LCH is equipped with requisite agility, manoeuverability, extended range, high altitude performance and round-the-clock, all-weather combat capability to perform roles of Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (DEAD), Counter Insurgency (CI) operations, against slow moving aircraft and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), high altitude bunker busting operations, counter-insurgency operations in jungle and urban environments and support to ground forces, the Defence Ministry had stated.
State-of-the-art technologies and systems compatible with stealth features such as reduced visual, aural, radar and infrared signatures and crashworthiness features for better survivability have been integrated in the LCH, Mr. Ananthakrishnan said.
The IAF operates the older Mi-25 and Mi-35 Russian attack helicopters which are in the process of being phased out and has inducted 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters from the U.S. The Army will also start receiving the Apache attack helicopters from early 2023 onwards, six of which have been contracted under an estimated $800 mn deal from the U.S. in February 2020.
In all, the IAF operates a wide mix of around 500 rotary platforms which includes around 90 Mi-17s, over 130 Mi-17V5s, over 70 ALH including the weaponised 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 does not have dedicated attack helicopters in its fleet, though it operates the weaponised version of the Advanced Light Helicopter.