SP Guide Publications puts forth a well compiled articulation of issues, pursuits and accomplishments of the Indian Army, over the years

— General Manoj Pande, Indian Army Chief

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My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.

— Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Indian Air Force Chief

Major Boost

The LCH will definitely enhance the operational capability of the Indian armed forces considerably particularity in the mountainous regions of the country as also boost self reliance

Issue: 11-2021By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)

On Friday November 19, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally handed over the indigenously built light combat helicopters (LCH) to Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Indian Air Force (IAF). This was done in a ceremony known as ‘Rashtra Raksha Samarpan Parv’ held in Jhansi to celebrate the 193rd birth anniversary of Rani Laxmi Bai. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also laid the foundation stone for a plant under Bharat Dynamics, which will be established at a cost of 400 crore to make propulsion system for anti-tank guided missiles in Jhansi and laid the foundation stone for the 600 MW ultra-mega solar park. The Prime Minister also handed over the Advanced Electronic Warfare suite to the Indian Navy. The formal handing over on November 19, 2021, of the LCH by Prime Minister Modi to the CAS, was a gesture that would inspire the nation’s defence industry to enhance the capability for indigenous development and production of high-end military equipment to achieve a high degree of self reliance. This is a goal set by the Modi Government that is described as “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” programme for the defence industry of India.

It was during the brief but intense war with Pakistan in 1999 known as the Kargil War, that revealed some major shortcomings in the Indian armed forces especially that of an attack helicopter. As the Kargil War was fought in the high mountainous region along the North Western border with Pakistan, the availability of an attack helicopter with the Indian armed forces involved in the conflict that would have made a lot of difference and would have made the operations in the high mountainous region of Ladakh a lot easier for them. It was this experience that inspired the Indian aerospace and defence industry for the indigenous development of an attack helicopter.

Soon after the Kargil war, in 2004, the Indian aerospace and defence major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) initiated a dialogue with the Indian armed forces on the issue of development of an indigenous attack helicopter. The Indian armed forces had already initiated a project to procure attack helicopters from foreign sources. However, in response to the initiative by HAL, at the end of 2004, the Indian armed forces decided to discontinue their effort to procure this platform from abroad and switched their focus on to the plan for indigenous production of this platform by the Indian aerospace and defence industry. Two years later, in 2006, HAL came up with their plan to develop a new platform in this category which was referred to as the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Plans by HAL to develop this new rotorcraft was most appropriate as the LCH was a derivative of an indigenous transport helicopter known as the Dhruv that was designed, developed and manufactured by HAL earlier on. This not only cut down the time that HAL took to roll out the LCH, it also reduced significantly the overall cost of the programme to develop a new platform. The cost of the LCH worked out in 2018 to around 231 crore per aircraft which is less than half the cost of the AH-64E Apache attack helicopters that the IAF acquired later from Boeing. But of course, the Apache is more heavily armed and has the sophisticated Longbow fire control radar which the LCH currently lacks. However, HAL intends to develop one before the commencement of mass production of the platform. One advantage of the LCH is that the IAF can afford to build up a larger fleet than with the Apache which is far more expensive.

The project to develop the LCH moved forward quickly and the first prototype of the platform undertook its maiden flight on March 29, 2010. In the flight trials conducted in the course of its development, the LCH landed at several high altitude helipads located at heights ranging between 13,600 feet (4,145 meters) to 15,800 feet (4,815 meters). Later on, the LCH set a record of being the first attack helicopter to land in Siachen, the world’s highest helipad on the glacier at Point Sonam that is located at an altitude of 21,000 feet (6,400 metres). By the middle of the year 2016, the LCH had completed its performance trials, clearing the route to the certification of its basic configuration by the regulatory authority. Limited series production of the LCH was formally inaugurated on August 26, 2017, by Arun Jaitely the then Minister of Defence.

The excellent performance of the LCH at high altitudes is attributable to the two Shakti engines that power the platform. The Shakti engine was designed for HAL by the French helicopter engine maker Turbomeca which is now known as Safran Helicopter Engines and was built in Bengaluru. While the performance of the Shakti engine at low altitudes is comparable to other engines of its size, it outperforms them significantly at altitudes above 5,000 feet. In the final analysis, the LCH will definitely enhance the operational capability of the Indian armed forces considerably particularity in the mountainous regions of the country as also boost self reliance.