(This was originally posted in The Hindu by Dinakar Peri)
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is gearing up to deliver the first batch of three Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) to the Indian Air Force (IAF) once acceptance tests are completed. These are part of the 15 Limited Series Production (LSP) helicopters approved for the Army and the IAF.
“HAL has received Letter of Intent for five Air force and five Army LCH for delivery pending contract finalisation of 15 Limited Series Production (LSP) LCH. HAL has produced and signaled out three LSP LCH for the IAF. Same will be subjected to customer acceptance and training shortly,” a HAL source said. On the remaining helicopters of the LSP series, the source added, “In the current year we are producing four LCH for Army and two for the Air Force. Remaining six LCH will be produced next year.”
The deal for the 15 LCH was expected to have been signed in the first quarter of 2021 but has been delayed due to the second wave of the pandemic.
The IAF has put forward a requirement for 65 LCH and the Army for 114 helicopters. Of the 15 LSP helicopters, 10 are for the IAF and five for the Army. The LCH, the lightest attack helicopter in the world weighing 5.5 tonnes, has been designed and developed by the HAL to meet the specific and unique requirements of the Indian armed forces and can operate at heights of 12,000 feet.
The Army Aviation operates smaller utility helicopters but does not have attack helicopters in its fleet and has for sometime pitched for attack helicopters of its own to operate with its strike Corps. The attack helicopter fleet is operated by the Air Force which provides close air support to the Army.
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.
Presently, the Army has 90 Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) and 75 Rudra, weaponised ALH, helicopters in service which are indigenously designed and developed by the HAL in addition to around 160 older Cheetah and Chetak utility helicopters which are in need of urgent replacement.
Last August, amid the ongoing standoff with China in Eastern Ladakh, two LCH were deployed for operations at high altitude in Leh at short notice to support IAF missions, validating their capability.