Strike three for HAL: After success of Dhruv and LCH, new light helicopter makes inaugural flight - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 6 September 2016

Strike three for HAL: After success of Dhruv and LCH, new light helicopter makes inaugural flight

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Sept 16

On Tuesday, nine months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid a foundation stone at Tumakuru for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL’s) new helicopter manufacturing complex, the helicopter that will be built there made its inaugural flight.

HAL announced today: “Achieving yet another significant milestone, HAL conducted a technical flight of indigenous Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) in Bengaluru, today. The helicopter lifted [off] at 1210 hours (12.10 p.m.) and was in the air for 15 minutes at HAL facilities.”

The LUH will replace the military’s obsolescent fleet of Chetak and Cheetah helicopters that have flown, in many cases, for over three decades. The defence ministry is following a dual track --- HAL is designing, developing and building 187 LUHs, while importing-cum-building 197 Kamov-226T light helicopters with technology transferred from Russia.

HAL’s today stated: “Apart from replacement of ageing fleet of Cheetah/Chetak, LUH is expected to capture a sizeable share both in domestic and international market.”

In the test, which HAL described as “flawless”, veteran test pilots, Wing Commanders Unni Pillai and Anil Bhambari, got airborne and carried out a few basic turns and manoeuvres. Helicopter testing is unforgiving, since pilots have no way of bailing out of a chopper that loses control.

Veteran test pilots like Pillai are part of an experienced HAL helicopter division that has already masterminded two successful indigenous programmes --- the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) that is serving the army in large numbers; and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) that is undergoing flight-testing before being inducted into the army and air force.

HAL intends to speed up flight-testing of the LUH by distributing flight-testing over three prototypes. It hopes to obtain initial operational certification by end-2017.

Limited Series Production will be done in Bengaluru, and the 610-acre Tumakuru unit is slated to commence series production in 2018-19. The defence ministry told Parliament in a statement on July 29: “The initial investment for the [Tumakuru] project could be of the order of Rs 2000 crore.”

According to HAL’s internal manufacturing targets, the Tumakuru plant will ship about 30 LUHs annually, starting in 2019-20. In Phase II, which will take another 3-4 years, production will be ramped up to 60 helicopters per year.

HAL today described the LUH as a light, single-engine helicopter that is powered by the Safran HE Ardiden-1U engine. In addition to two pilots, the helicopter can fly six passengers at sea level, with load capacity reducing with altitude. HAL says the LUH’s engine, which delivers 750 KiloWatts of power, permits flight operations as high as 6,500 metres (21,325 feet). That would allow it to fly to India’s highest posts in the Siachen Glacier sector.

HAL says the LUH has an “all-up weight” of 3,150 kilogrammes, which places it in the 3-tonne class. Its operating range of 350 kilometres allows it to carry out various roles, including reconnaissance, transport, cargo load and high-altitude rescue operations.

The twin-engine Dhruv ALH, which is a 5-tonne class helicopter, was initially sold by HAL to the military for about Rs 40 crore ($6 million); but the current order is likely to be priced at Rs 65-70 crore ($10 million). By that yardstick, industry analysts estimate the smaller LUH would be delivered at about Rs 40 crore per piece; and the 200-helicopter order would be worth about Rs 8,000 crore. 


  1. Thanks for coverage. Any news of imrh?

  2. All that is fine Mr. Shukla , but what about exports ? anyone buying current manufactured helicopters ?particularly after Bolivian fiasco ???

  3. If baseball terms are to be used, parhaps a reference to a third home run would be better than a third strike (implying third failure).

  4. Good news, I hope the certification process is competed on scheduled. Such helicopters are so much delayed , indian army has been slogging cheetahs and chetaks for too long.
    Also hope ka-

  5. Thank you Colonel.
    your reporting remains exemplery and consistent.

    Your blog is something I visit every morning.
    Not to mention how much more soothing it is to read blogs over advertisement and flash rich Newspaper pages.

  6. the dhruv cannot be called complete success as in 15 yrs just about 150 made it into our armed forces, lch has missed several deadlines and it has not even achieved ioc, so still few years away from foc. hence your statement that next year luh will get ioc is just not happening. we have no choice now but to quietly suffer the delays of hal and live with it.

    1. HAL is a piece of crap. Anyone thinking otherwise just has poor standards

  7. what the status of LCH?? after a fast development cycle it is nowhere to be inducted... ? Any idea whats pulling it back??

  8. @ Anonymous 17:28

    Try looking at it from the pitcher's viewpoint... See the difference in what constitutes success?

  9. The first flight is very good, now HAL needs to ensure certification is complete as per scheduled .

    The KA-226T induction and subsequent manufacture needs to start yesterday.
    The army and airforce are flying ancient machines daily for critical tasks.

  10. Hi Editor,

    Great news and a well written article.

    Some questions :

    1. Will this be used as a Light Observation Helicopter by Army Aviation Scout/command elements as well or is there another product in the pipeline ? If the response is former, are there hardware and software hooks available to integrate with a sensor POD and data links.

    2. Now That we have the prototype ready. what is the level of commonality in terms of spare parts with ALH Dhruv and LCH . If majority parts are common then we can save expenses and give MSME's orders for delivery of parts.

    Just curious. Thanks.

  11. Great article Colonel, but as a FYI, "strike three" has a negative connotation, as it means the batter in a baseball game has missed striking the ball the third time in succession, and so is out. Details at

  12. Sir plz bring a detailed news report on current status of LCH.

  13. Notwithstanding all the criticism, some due and some frivolous, HAL has done remarkably well in delivering three decent rotary wing platforms viz. the ALH, LCH and now, the LUH.

    The next thing that needs to be done on priority is to improve upon these platforms with the help of private industry, national or otherwise, and operationalize them first within the country, before thinking of exports.

    Secondly, there are reports in the media about the PLA equipping infantry units especially in the Tibet Autonomous Region, with their anti-armour WZ-10s, which are reported to be quite sophisticated.

    So, the LCH needs to be fast tracked, particularly the weapons integration and testing, in response to this threat. Also, the Helina missile needs to be junked if the DRDO is unable to deliver it as it is taking forever. In its place some other suitable missiles like say the Hellfire from our new American besties can be incorporated.

    1. Wouldn't a better response be to invest in better anti air?

  14. Yes, upgrading air defence network in forward areas is equally important. But China can rapidly deploy close to half a million troops along the LAC which would be infantry and armour. As the LCH fulfils anti armour, infantry and also air defence roles, its deployment has to be expedited.


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