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By Bulbul Singh

09 Janu 06. India’s efforts to make place in the international defense market has received a severe jolt following the grounding of the homegrown Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), called Dhruv on account of technical problems.

Built by Bangalore based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, (HAL), the Dhruv was claimed to one of the lightest helicopters and a marketing tie up with IAI of Israel was poised to sell the ALH in the international market. The ALH has already been sold to neighboring Nepal, Israel and negotiations are underway for the sale of at least six ALHs to Chile. The grounding of the ALH followed the crash of the helicopter in southern India last month. Sources in HAL said, there is a technical problem with the rotors and also the gear box of the helicopter. The chopper has a bearing less composite tails rotor, which had been designed in a bid to make the craft lighter.

A pilot of the Indian Army said there are problems with the tail rotor but added that Handling emergency of in-flight Tail rotor failure on Dhruv would require cutting off engine power admitting landing becomes tricky and requires skill on the ALH due to rotation of the fuselage. In November 2004, a hard landing of the ALH in Nepal had put the pointer on a faulty tail rotor. Sources said that one of the two ALH Dhruv helicopters, which India supplied to the Royal Nepal Army in 2003, had a hard landing after the pitch control system (comprising the ‘spider’ which controls the angle of the tail-rotor blades, acting against the torque of the main rotor) failed and damaged the tail rotor, sending the helicopter into a spin before hitting the ground. Sources in the Indian Armed forces said they have grounded all the ALH choppers numbering around 65 with the Indian Army, Indian Force and the Indian Coast Guards.
The Indian defense forces have already placed an order of around 300 ALH choppers with HAL. An official of the Indian defense forces said, there is no decision to stop the order of Dhruvs adding that the government is actively trying to sell the helicopter in international markets.

The official added that HAL is working on a higher grade engine with more thrust and is expected to roll out in 2005. During test flights, the Indian army had desired that the thrust of the current engine, Turbomeca 333 2B2 be increased to enable it carry a pay load of 200 kilograms satisfactorily.

HAL and Turbomeca, Bordes, France, are already developing a higher-powered engine named Shakti in Bangalore for the ALH; program. HAL and IAI have also tied to produce Israeli avionics and cockpit for all futuristic ALH choppers.

The ALH which is designed to perform military tasks such as hellebore assault, reconnaissance, anti-tank and Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) missions, is developed in collaboration with MBB of Germany (presently Eurocopter) and has around 40 per cent indigenous components.

The prototype of the Army version was first flown in 1994 and the Army, Navy and the Air Force received the first batch in mid-2002.

The Indian government conceived the ALH project in 1970 as a successor to the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters in the 1980s.The project was assigned to HAL for implementation. The Air Force (IAF) desired the ALH to be inducted into service in 1981-82. However the program got delayed following the U.S. sanctions of 1998 which barred the original engine supplier — Light Helico! pter Turbine Engine Company (LHTEC) of Phoenix. The first prototype of ALH flew in 1992, a naval version in 1995, and an army version in October 2000. The serial production in early 2002.

The helicopter has been designed to Indian requirements to patrol areas along Pakistan and the upper reaches of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

An official of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, claimed the ALH is being better than the Bell 412 design but sligh

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