India’s Light Combat Helicopter makes first flight - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 30 March 2010

India’s Light Combat Helicopter makes first flight

The first flight of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), at the HAL airstrip in Bangalore on Monday

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st March 2010

As the helicopter taxied slowly along the airstrip, a little knot of designers and executives from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) watched silently, the sweat beads on their foreheads from more than just the Bangalore heat. The 29th of March, had been selected for a landmark attempt: the first flight of the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Already a year late, and facing criticism for having gone several hundred kilograms overweight, the LCH had much to prove.

Attack helicopters involve the most complex aeronautical, stealth, sensor and weapons technologies. HAL’s state-of-the-art LCH aims to gatecrash an exclusive club of light attack helicopters that includes Eurocopter’s Tiger and China’s ultra-secret Zhisheng-10 (Z-10). In high-altitude performance, the LCH will be in a class by itself: taking off from Himalayan altitudes of 10,000 feet, operating rockets and guns up to 16,300 feet, and launching missiles at UAVs flying at over 21,000 feet.

At 3.30 p.m. the twin Shakti engines roared to a crescendo and the LCH pilots, Group Captains Unni Pillai and Hari Nair, lifted off the ground. The futuristic helicopter, all angles and armoured sheets, flew for a distance just a few feet above the runway; then cheering and clapping broke out as it climbed to 50 feet. Over the next 15 minutes, Pillai and Nair put the LCH through its first flight test, doing a clockwise and then an anti-clockwise turn, hovering motionless and circling the airport four times.

“It is a big day for all of us, especially those involved in the LCH’s design and fabrication”, Ashok Nayak, Chairman and Managing Director of HAL told Business Standard. “We were going to have the first LCH flight in December but, for one reason or another, it kept getting delayed.”

A feared predator in the modern battlefield, the attack helicopter is a key weapon system against enemy tanks. Once an enemy tank column is detected, attack helicopters speed to confront them, flying just 20-30 feet high to avoid radar detection with enemy rifle and machine-gun bullets ricocheting off their armoured sides. Hiding behind trees or a ridgeline, they pop up when the tanks are about 4 kilometers away to fire missiles that smash through a tank’s armour.

Excess weight has been the main reason for the delay in the LCH programme. The heavy armour needed for protection against enemy fire conflicts with the need for a light, highly mobile helicopter that can twist and dodge and hover stationary to allow pilots to aim and fire their missiles. The LCH was supposed to weight just 2.5 tonnes when empty; but the design team found that it actually weighed 580 kg more than that.

At lower altitudes, this would not be a significant drawback. But, at the LCH’s flight ceiling of 6000 metres (almost 20,000 feet), this would significantly reduce the LCH’s payload of weapons and ammunition.

Last September, the chief of HAL’s Helicopter Complex, R Srinivasan, told Business Standard that the LCH’s weight would be progressively reduced over the first three Technology Demonstrators (TDs) of the LCH. “We will find ways of cutting down TD-1 by 180-200 kg; TD-2, will be another 100 kg lighter; and TD-3 will shave off another 65-75 kg. That would leave the LCH about 200 kg heavier than originally planned, but the IAF has accepted that.”

HAL chief, Ashok Nayak, today confirmed to Business Standard that this schedule was on track. “The weight reduction that we had targeted for TD-1, which flew on Monday, has been met. The second prototype, TD-2, which will make its first flight by September, will be lighter still.”

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has said that it needs 65 LCHs; the army wants another 114. If the development programme is not delayed further the LCH will enter service by 2015-2016. To meet its needs till then, the MoD floated a global tender for 22 attack helicopters. With only three companies responding, that tender was cancelled last year.

But HAL remains confident since most of the key technologies in the LCH --- e.g. the Shakti engine, the rotors and the main gearbox --- have already been proven in the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), 159 of which are being built for the army and the air force.

Simultaneously, the LCH’s weapons and sensors are being tested on a weaponised version of the Dhruv. These include a Nexter 20 mm turret-mounted cannon, an MBDA air-to-air missile, and an EW suite from SAAB, South Africa. India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is developing an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) for the LCH. Based on the already developed Nag ATGM, the HELINA (or HELIicopter-mounted NAg) missile can destroy tanks from a distance of seven kilometres.


  1. The plane look very light, not a heavy weapons platform like the apache.

    There is a red cable sticking out going to the rotor, otherwise looks like the comanche without it's complicated stuff like hidden weapons, and special tail rotor and stabilizer.

    The comanche stabilizer was the funniest part of that aircraft, showed they had not figured out stealth completely.

  2. Col Shukla, any news of the HELINA ? when is it going to be tested ?

  3. here are couple of images guys, first is of actual test flight and the other is of wooden mockup.



    But I have some concerns,

    1. If the wheel base of LCH is the same as seen in the pic, then I am sorry to say but the helicopter wont give good landing especially in case of hard landing.

    2. I think there is urgent need to reform the wheel structure at back and front with better shock absorbers as well as reduce heat signatures by putting in retractable wheels.

  4. a very detailed and awesome news Ajai sir. thanks. been waiting for this for long.

    sir, you are saying 2015-16 as the operational period but if i remember right it was supposed to be 2013 or there about. can you clarify sir?

  5. Once more, a good article with lots of info!

    Ajai, can you please post the full specs of LCH? What are the designed specs of this chopper?

    BTW, any inside info on the progress of LCA? There were some reports that ADA was surprised about DefMin's comments about Naval LCA. Any progress on NLCA too?

  6. Heartiest Congrats Hal! Most of Hal programs are maturing. In the next 2 yrs, various helicopter classes will be donning the Indian and possibly foreign also.The expertise built will make Hal a helicopter Hub.God speed.

  7. Any news on the LSP-3 of LCA sir?

  8. awesome design, especially the landing gear which is clearly made keeping hard landings in mind !
    10.5 m/s is the tolerance limit as Col Shukla said, super !

    joydeep, you should stop embarrassing yourself now. you are making a fool of yourself with these silly comments.

  9. Typo!

    "The second prototype, TD-1, which will make its first flight by September..."

    Did you mean TD-2 ???

    You're welcome, Ajai.

  10. The red cable and such could be just exposed during testing purposes for testing instruments and will be removed/inside in actual LCH.

    Hopefully we see LCH soon in large numbers.

  11. This helicopter does not even look as good as the AH-1 cobra's, that were made in the 70's. Look at it landing gear, its looks so cheap & fragile!!!

    Would it not have been better and cheaper to just get a licence to completely produce the more capable cobra?

  12. @BadIndian
    LCH is a "light" attack helicopter..
    comparable to AH1-Cobra..
    Longbow Apache,Mi-28N & Ka-50 are heavy attack helicopters.

  13. it seems fair to mention any problems being faced by the LCH such as weight issues and schedule issues in an article discussing it. But just to give a perspective, even major aviation programs across the world by giants like Boeing go overweight and over schedule. That just is the nature of the beast. That is why completion of hte initial design is followed up with a weight savings program. It is common for the initial design to overstate capabilities and buyers are aware of that too who in turn make suitable corrections.

  14. It looks excellent. Great job HAL.

  15. Guys I do have to make some points about this bird

    1. The recon pod should have been below pilot 1, rather than top of nose.

    2. Talk as you may like, the wheels are non retractable in TD-1, may be you will get that in TD-2/3. By retractable I mean wheel that will disappear inside the helos body.

    3. pilot 1 and pilot 2 are almost sitting at same level. Hope to see pilot 2 sitting a little higher in TD-2/3.

    4. Avionics will be clearer by TD-3.

    5. At 2.5 ton empty and 5.5 ton full its still the heaviest light combat helicopter, so need to cut down on weight and enhance RCS. But I dont see a place where to do it.

    6. Adding flares/decoys dispenser pod and chaff pods will probably be more hellpful if its heat signatures and high RCS can be reduced.

    By the way here a few more pics at

    If any one can add some more I would be happy.

  16. Ajai,

    Nice post. Its good to hear good news about LCH,Arjun, Akash, etc..,

    But, I have a question for you. If DRDO can build sophisticated things like missiles, tanks etc. what actually stopping them to build us a artillery where we have a big gap.I know they build us IFG but why there is no news about building other type of artillery? Could you ask DRDO Guys about this?

    Thanks For your help...

  17. Why 2015-16? If all major and minor subsystems have already been tested on ALH, LCH is just a new airframe. How long would then HAL take to design LOH from scrach?

  18. Joydeep,

    Seems like you are an expert in attack helicopter design.
    How does the positioning of the electro-optical matter. Just b'cos other helis have it below pilot, doesn't mean that HAL has to do the same, remember the IAF is involved with the designing & they must have seen a benefit to this.

    Look at the design of the cockpit area, does the 2nd pilot really have to be higher. If he is watching his weapons screen through the recon pod, and can see all around him fromthe window, where is the need for being higher. Give some credit to the design team, they might have seen this to be a better configuration. Don't just make comments b'caus you can. Almost like the main stream Indian media, anything wrong with the LCA or ALH is blamed on the design & HAL is thoroughly condemed. These are brand new machines and will have teething problems. Every major systems producer in the world has these problems, their media doesn't go out condeming them. Some of us Indians will always believe iin the Firangi and be very happy to belittle the brown skinned Indian.
    Lets wait for the TD-2 & TD-3 to come out before we start critiqing every aspect of the LCH.
    To me, it looks like at least the rear suspension is a folding suspension and will retract. I believe that the test team had deliberately kept the wheels out in case there was an accident, the wheel's suspension will take a lot of the shock - a very smart move, not one that I will complain about when it come's to pilot safety.

    Peace man, learn to be cheerful & happy.


  19. It is good to have local products, its the craze all over the world these days. Look at the results though....and it won't be ready till 2016+ :-(

    Image if this performs like other locally produced products at airshows....

    Its still cheapper and much much better to get AH-1. I wonder what will happen with all the extra weight. Paks don't even need to try to shoot this thing.

  20. @ Alok

    My friend the points I mentioned were never meant to defame or undermine anyone.

    I am also saying that by TD-2/3 we will see major refinements.

    As for position of the recon pod at the nose, I said it should be below the pilot 1 as that will give 360 degree view. At the nose I dont think thats possible.

    As for pilot 1 and pilot 2 almost sitting at same level. If pilot 2 sits a bit higher we can make LCH a little slimmer by width as well as weight. It will serve twin purpose, reduce RCS as well as weight. Already plans are afoot to reduce TD-2 weight by atleast 200 kgs, remember!!!!

    Also if there is availability of night vision devices and helmet mounted displays for pilots, a lot of problems would be solved.

    By the way, thank you for your response that gave under your name.

  21. It should be obvious that if it has to be lightweight and have operational readiness it should be simple and with fewer systems to maintain. That the landing gear is outside, instead of folding into its closet, makes the system simpler with fewer hydraulics/pneumatics and lighter and ready.

  22. Joydeep, no chopper in the world has a recon pod below for 360 degree surveillance. All choppers usually have a pod that can scan in the forward sector and which assists in targeting any enemy in the frontal sector. Having a 360 degree scan capability is useful but adds weight and engineering complexity, not to mention affects the crash worthiness of the chopper by having a pod suspended below, through the airframe.

  23. You know, what would have been superb, would have been to arch the tail down just a little, and give the LCH a dragonfly look! With it's long skinny wheels and oversized clear cockpit that's exactly what the LCH looks like! What's the Indian name for a dragonfly? That's what they should call it. :-) You heard it here first!

  24. Sudip Das ( April 2010 at 04:14

    Why EW Suite from SAAB, South Africa ,

    DRDO has developed EW Suite for Tejas (Advanced Systems Integration and Evaluation Organisation (ASIEO) of Bangalore), includes a radar warning receiver and jammer, laser warner, missile approach warner, and chaff and flare dispenser.

    A scaled down version will be required . Price will be low also . Why spend more ?

    Seems HAL doesn't like desi stuff


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