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Arun Jaitley inaugurates manufacture of light combat helicopter at HAL

Also, launches upgrade of Hawk jet trainers into combat aircraft

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

Jaitley inaugurates light combat helicopter manufacture in HAL
Light combat helicopter designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics. Beyond the current initial order, the Indian Army has committed to ordering 114 LCHs, and the Indian Air Force another 65

On Saturday in Bengaluru, Defence Minister underlined the growing capabilities of (HAL) by inaugurating the production of the indigenous design (LCH), which has designed, developed and will now manufacture.

On November 7, 2016, the defence ministry had cleared a Rs 2,911-crore procurement of 15 as a “limited series production” (LSP) order – a little under Rs 200 crore per helicopter. But top sources tell Business Standard the final cost would work out to Rs 231 crore per at 2017-18 prices.

This is less than half the cost of the AH-64E Apache attack helicopters the (IAF) has bought from Boeing, US. The Apache is more heavily armed and armoured and has the sophisticated Longbow fire control radar. The does not yet have radar, but intends to develop one before mass production begins.

is building the 15 LSP choppers at its Bengaluru helicopter complex. However, the has committed to ordering 114 LCHs, and the air force another 65, which could be built at an upcoming helicopter production facility in Tumkur.

has custom-designed the 5.8-tonne to provide fire support to the at mountainous deployment areas on the northern borders, which can be as high as 6,000 metres (almost 20,000 feet).

At these rarefied altitudes, where the shortage of oxygen prevents troops from carrying heavy weapons into battle, the will provide crucial fire support with its 20-millimetre turret gun, 70-millimetre rockets and, to be incorporated later, a guided missile.

“The has demonstrated [the] capability to land and take off from (sic) with considerable load, fuel and weapons that are beyond any other combat helicopter,” stated on Saturday.

Highlighting the LCH’s versatility, stated: “The helicopter can carry out operational roles under extreme weather conditions at different altitudes from sea level, hot weather desert, cold weather and Himalayan altitudes.”

The superb high-altitude performance of the LCH, like that of its precursor in service, the advanced light helicopter (ALH), stems from twin Shakti engines, designed for by French helicopter engine maker (now Safran Helicopter Engines), and built in Bengaluru. While the Shakti’s performance at low altitudes is comparable to other engines of its size, it outperforms them significantly at altitudes above 5,000 feet.

The has a narrow fuselage, in which two pilots sit one-behind-the-other in an armoured cockpit that can protect them from small arms firing. Like the ALH, on which many of the LCH’s flying technologies were tested, the new attack helicopter has a hinge-less main rotor, a bearing-less tail rotor, integrated dynamic system, crashworthy landing gear and a smart all-glass cockpit.

The LCH’s weapons and sensors were developed and tested on an armed variant of the Dhruv, called the HAL’s chairman, T Suvarna Raju, says this evolutionary approach drastically cut down on the LCH’s development time.

The current order does not include a provision for “performance based logistics” (PBL), which constitute an guarantee that a specified percentage of the fleet is available at all times.

As Business Standard reported on March 30 (In a first, assures 75% availability of fleet) signed its first PBL contract for the Dhruv, requiring it to position maintenance teams in up to 40 aviation bases and two maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) hubs in the north and east, from where repair teams could respond to maintenance requests from aviation bases.

Hawk trainer upgrade

also inaugurated an development programme that aims to enhance the Hawk trainer aircraft from an advanced jet trainer (AJT) into a combat-capable platform that “is capable of delivering precise munitions, including air to ground and close combat weapons”, according to

Unlike most fighter aircraft, including the Tejas, the Hawk cannot fly at supersonic speeds. Yet, there is a need for lower-performance that can fly and manoeuvre in valleys to support soldiers in an environment where there is no major enemy air threat.

While the IAF has not yet committed to buying the so-called “combatised Hawk”, the presence of at the dedication ceremony is significant.

First Published: Sat, August 26 2017. 22:47 IST
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