INDIA’S LIGHT COMBAT HELICOPTER IN TROUBLE
By Bulbul Singh
30 Sep 09. India’s homegrown Light Combat Helicopter [LCH] Program is
facing technical problems as the helicopter is said to be overweight for high altitude missions. The Indian Army and Air Force need the LCH to replace Russian Mi-35 helicopters. The LCH is scheduled to enter service by 2012 but the latest technical problems could delay the whole program.
Sources in India’s State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) which is developing the LCH said, “The helicopter is overweight by as much as 600 kilograms which will make it difficult for smoother operations in the upper reaches. Indian defence forces need LCH to replace the aging Russian Mi-35 for logistic and combat purposes in higher reaches of the northern Jammu and Kashmir and also along the Indo-Chinese border.
LCH is a twin-engined, 5.5-ton helicopter and will carry air-to-air missiles, 20mm guns, unguided rockets and cluster bombs, grenade launchers and anti-radiation missiles.
The helicopter will be equipped with missile warning systems, anti-missile countermeasures, and night-attack-capable cockpit displays. Its narrow fuselage will be stealthy, and its landing gear will be built to handle hard landings.
In addition, LCHwill carry a homegrown gyro-stabilized sighting system comprising a high-performance thermal imager and laser rangefinder with a four-kilometer detection range of a NATO tank target. Known as the Heliborne-Thermal Imaging System (HELITIS), it provides a stabilization accuracy of 30 micro-radians and is intended for target recognition and engagement. Most of the weaponry and equipment is being procured from overseas defence companies.
Currently, the weapons and other equipment are being tested on the weaponised version of the Advance Light Helicopter (ALH), produced by HAL.
The LCH is intended to shoot down UAVs and slow-moving aircraft, escort troop-carrying copters on special operations, destroy enemy air defenses, fight in urban environments, and destroy tanks and other vehicles.
LCH is scheduled to enter service by 2012, but technical problems with weight could mean the helicopter could be delayed as the users, the Indian Army and Air Force are likely to reject an overweight LCH.
“Both the Indian Army and Air Force have a Requirement for around 150 LCHs, in case LCH is delayed, the Indian defence ministry may have to go for a global hunt for this category of helicopter,” said a senior official in the Indian Ministry of Defence. There is an increased demand for LCH category of helicopters due to greater vigil on the Indo-Chinese border added the official.
India is strengthening its defences along the Indo-Chinese border, which are along higher reaches in the Himalayas and need to support LCH-type helicopters for logistics.
Recently the Indian Navy asked the Indian defence ministry to buy Medium Lift Helicopters from the overseas market and not wait for HAL’s program.
HAL took up the Medium Lift Helicopter program nearly five years ago, but has still to find an international partner. There is a total demand of over 350 Medium Light Helicopters by the three wings of the Indian defence forces, with a major chunk required from the Indian Navy.