The indigenous Light Combat Helicopter, which is already a success story that has been ordered by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the army, logged an important breakthrough today by flying with an “automatic flight control system” (AFCS) designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
An AFCS is a powerful computer that keeps a helicopter flying stably, by sensing any deviation from level flight in microseconds, and sending flight controls the correctives needed to revert to stable flight.
So far, the LCH had been flying with an expensive, imported AFCS.
“The development of indigenous AFCS is a HAL-funded project and will replace the high value imported system,” said T. Suvarna Raju, the chief of HAL.
HAL’s mission control systems R&D centre (MCSRDC), which has developed this system, is credited with a string of software development successes – notably the Jaguar fighter’s DARIN navigation-attack system that guides the aircraft with pinpoint accuracy to deliver bombs on a target hundreds of kilometers away.
HAL also announced on Wednesday that it had “indigenised the Cockpit Display System on LCH, namely the Integrated Architecture Display System (IADS) with the participation of Indian private industries.” This system, which is being flight tested, also replaces an expensive imported system.
These import-substitution measures are expected to cumulatively bring down the cost of the LCH from the Rs 231 crore per chopper that has been negotiated for the first 15 helicopters that the military ordered in December.
The LCH is one of HAL’s four major success stories in helicopter development. It started with the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH), which is the mainstay of the army aviation corps. That was followed by an armed version of the Dhruv, called the Rudra, which participated in the Republic Day flypast last week. Undergoing testing is the eponymous Light Utility Helicopter, which is in a race with the Russian Kamov-226T to enter production.
The LCH was accorded Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) on August 26, in the presence of the defence minister.
For the army, the LCH is a crucial force multiplier – by providing fire support at extremely high altitudes to Indian infantrymen, who can carry only limited weaponry in those rarefied altitudes. With an LCH at hand, they will benefit from its 20-millimetre turret gun, 70-millimetre air-to-ground rockets, and air-to-air and air-to-ground guided missiles.
The LCH, which is a 5.8-tonne, twin-engine helicopter will cost less than half the price of the AH-64E Apache, which the IAF has bought from Boeing, USA. The Apache is more heavily armed and armoured and has the sophisticated Longbow fire control radar. The LCH does not yet have radar, but HAL is in the process of developing one before mass production begins.