Indian attack helicopter crosses crucial hurdle - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 26 June 2015

Indian attack helicopter crosses crucial hurdle

Clears hot weather trials in Jodhpur, to face trials in Leh next month

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th June 15

Over the last week the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), designed and built in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), moved a crucial step closer to operational service by successfully completing a set of gruelling trials in the desert areas around Jodhpur.

These were the LCH’s “hot weather flight trials”, designed to check whether it could meet its performance requirements even in blazing temperatures, with oxygen in short supply. HAL pilots proved their helicopter’s ability to meet its performance specifications, handling qualities and loads, even at low speeds when a helicopter engine is gasping for air.

In February, the LCH had successfully completed “cold weather flight trials” in North Pullu in Ladakh. There the LCH was required to start up on internal batteries and get airborne after an overnight “soak” in the minus 20 degrees Celsius cold. Operating from a helipad at 4,600 metres (15,000 feet) above sea level, the LCH test-flew at altitudes of 6,500 metres (21,300 feet).

Next month, the LCH faces “hot and high” trials in Leh, where the relative summer warmth will further reduce the oxygen, already in short supply due to the high altitude.

HAL has custom-designed the LCH for the world’s highest battlefield, Indian Army posts on the Himalayan watershed. With severe limits on the weaponry that soldiers can physically carry at those altitudes, the heavily armed LCH will support infantrymen with its cannons and rockets, while defending itself from enemy aircraft with air-to-air missiles.

In the plains of Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu, the LCH will be primarily used to destroy enemy tanks with guided missiles at ranges of up to 7 kilometres.

Each of these tasks presents challenges that few helicopters can meet, and that the Indian Army will not compromise upon. Yet, HAL designers appear confident that the LCH will meet every requirement.

Describing last week’s tests in Jodhpur, HAL chairman, T Suvarna Raju said, “Test flights were carried out in the temperature range of 39 to 42 degrees Celsius. These were done with the involvement of customer pilots from the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Army…”

HAL’s confidence stems from the fact that much of the LCH has already proved itself in two earlier helicopters. While the flying platform was proven in the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), the weapons and sensors were proven in the Rudra, an armed variant of the Dhruv.

The LCH has many commonalities with the Dhruv. Both share the Shakti engine and the same dynamic components --- the main rotor, tail rotor, and gearbox. But the LCH has an advantage over the Dhruv. As one designer explains: “While designing the Dhruv, we were feeling our way, adding on systems one by one. But in the LCH, we knew all those systems would be needed, so we were able to integrate them from the beginning. That makes the LCH a sleeker, faster, more integrated aircraft.”

Even so, the LCH has several new features that made engineering a challenge. First, it is heavily armoured to protect pilots from enemy fire. Next, its fuselage was redesigned to make it “stealthy”, or hard for enemy radar to detect. If it is shot down, a crash-resistant landing gear would help pilots to survive even when the LCH impacts the ground at 10 metres/second. Finally, to be sleeker, the LCH seats its two pilots --- one flying, the other operating weapons --- one behind the other, not side-by-side like in the Dhruv. That required a redesign of the flight controls, hydraulics and fuel system.

On the sub-continental battlefield, the LCH will be pitted against the Zisheng-10 (Z-10) light attack helicopter, developed by China’s Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAIC). There are reports that Beijing is providing Pakistan with the Z-10, as a replacement for its older Huey Cobra attack helicopters.

HAL already has a commitment for the LCH, with the army wanting 114 helicopters and the air force asking for 65. There could also be orders from the international market, where the LCH will compete against the Z-10 and the Eurocopter Tiger. For that, HAL will have to establish production facilities and after-sales support with greater efficiency than it has done for its otherwise admirable Dhruv helicopter. 


  1. High time media started cheering DRDO and HAL for their efforts to make India self reliant in defense.

  2. Admirable DRruv? ha ha ha

    1. Negativity seems to be your forte.

  3. @Anon 9.28

    Dhruv is based on highly successful German MBB chopper, same design which is used for US Army's Lakota chopper. That's why Dhruv is indeed admirable. If you are an Indian, then it's your inferiority complex, which makes you doubt anything that is Indian. If you are a Paki or a Chini, such responses means jealousy.

  4. Great works Hope the armed forces design its weapons like anti-tank missile , rocket , heavy machine gun in india
    I guess a heavy machine once made for LCH can also find use in rest of the army

  5. Sir,

    As you have mentioned that all the rotating parts are from Dhurv and the designers were knowing they want then why they are taking so much of time ( 2010 first flight) to get IOC. ???
    Is it due to technical related problems or something else.


  6. Attack helicopters are now being outdated by armed drones. Israel recently deactivated Cobra fleet: to be replaced by UCAV. India should focus on future

  7. How reliable is this when we have 17 crashes recorded for dhruv platform from which it is derived .

    That's like 1 in 12 crashed out of 200 produced.

  8. dhruv is falling off the skies like raindrops...look at what happened to the dhruvs in equador...if you are indian u wud be seriously concerned....if u are chini or paki u would be calling dhruv a wonder

  9. Shuklaji you are propagating a myth that a helicopter will face another helicopter in the battlefield like two knights jousting. You know that is nonsense. The LCH will not face the Z-10 on the battlefield. It will face enemy ground fire and any other aircraft that the enemy may care to throw at it.

  10. Bravo Zulu!! to HAL. The development of the LCH is a good case study. Based on the Dhruv, the time taken for its development has been short quick and purposeful. If it meets all its operational trials then we have a true success story for HAL to commercialise.

  11. Just a point of curiosity, the deserts of Rajasthan can heat upto 50 + degrees Celsius. 46-47 degree Celsius is seen in Norther Indian cities Like Delhi and Amritsar.

    We know mechanical items more or less will (or rather can) function in such conditions. The hot weather test is also to monitor the 'survivability' of embedded computers or COTS industrial computers is in most cases upto 70+ degrees Celsius.

    In such case, why are the tests being limited upto 42 Degrees only ?

  12. Shuklaji, what is the status of Helina, without which LCH is incomplete?

  13. Shri. Jean Luc Pickard, good point. You should also try to find out to what maximum temperatures our imported helicopters have been subjected (and cleared) by the IAF and Army. Most of these come from Russia and Europe, where temperatures never reach this high, even in the worst summers. But yet, they're accepted by the IAF. Great, right?

    By the way, 50 deg. celcius is usually the surface temperature of any place. Also, 42 degrees may also be the temperature induced due to the rotation of the chopper's blades. Surely, air temperatures won't remain static in the midst of huge rotating blades.


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