HAL’s Light Combat Helicopter Is Nothing Short Of A Flying Tank
During the 1999 Kargil War, operations of Indian Air Force were hampered as the only combat helicopter, the Mi-35, couldn’t operate at extremely high altitudes where most of the conflict was concentrated.
“The Mi-35 couldn’t even cross the Banihal pass. We were handicapped and badly needed a chopper that can even launch assaults at high altitudes,” (Retd) Wing Commander Unni Pillai, the chief test pilot of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) reminisced.
Seventeen years after the war, India has an indigenous combat helicopter that can carry out operations even at the 19,600-feet high Siachen glacier. Designed and built by HAL, the Light Combat Helicopter is the only machine in the world that can carry out operations at such high altitudes.
“Last year we successfully landed this helicopter at Siachen glacier, the only combat helicopter to do that in the world.”
Unni Pillai, (Retd) Wing Commander and Chief Test Pilot, HAL
Armed with a nose gun, rockets, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, the LCH is a 5.8-tonne class chopper, heavily armoured and engineered for combat. The helicopter has a state-of-the-art cockpit with day/night targeting systems for the crew including the helmet pointed sight, with the help of which the pilot can aim just by looking at the target. The LCH is fitted with a self-protection suite consisting of radar/laser missile warning systems and counter measures dispensing system (CMDS).
The capability of the airframe is well understood by the fact that HAL LCH ( 5800 kg ) maximum-take off weight is more than double of its empty weight ( 2250 kg ).
“The machine can carry weapons up to 1,000 kg. In addition, we have a nose gun which can carry up to 300 rounds of ammunition of different type, penetrating or high explosives,” added Pillai.
HAL LCH during “hot and high” trials in Ladakh made the world record when it flew at one of the worlds highest landing bases located in Siachen with a decent weapons payload. The attack helicopter scaled an altitude of 4.8 kms from sea level to one of the most remote, inhospitable environment known to human beings. With deployment of LCH in this region it will tilt the favour of any army to defeat their enemy in high altitude region especially AH-1 Cobra of Pakistan and Chinese Z-19 and Z-10 which can operate at such high altitudes.
Pillai said the first limited series of 10 helicopters will be available to the Indian Air Force in the next four months.
The first prototype helicopter had its inaugural flight on March 23, 2010.
Commenting on the Make in India initiative, he asserted that the requirements of the Indian Air Force can only be met by aircraft manufactured locally.
“We have a particular operating environment and we are the best people to make as per our requirement. American machines don’t have a requirement to operate above 10,000-12,000 feet. Hence to enhance our operation capabilities, it is important we make in our country.”
(Retd) Wing Commander, Unni Pillai, Chief Test Pilot, HAL
The Indian Army’s Army Aviation Corps (AAC) has expressed its intention of acquiring 114 helicopters and the IAF 65. However, no contract has been signed so far. “It has to turn into a contract between the Services and HAL,” according to Raju. The AAC helicopter fleet is only at 70 percent of its authorized strengths, according to the Indian Ministry of Defense. LCH is envisioned to fill that requirement. The LCH is now in an in an advanced stage of induction.
According to media sources India is in talks with “certain” countries in Africa for possible export of the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter even as the Indian Defence Ministry has set a target of $2 billion worth of exports over the next two years. “We are in talks with certain countries in Africa who have evinced interest in the LCH. With great value for money, the helicopter is an attractive buy for many countries,” a senior defence official said.