Jaitley inaugurates light combat helicopter manufacture in HAL - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 26 August 2017

Jaitley inaugurates light combat helicopter manufacture in HAL

HAL prices the LCH at Rs 231 crore each, less than half the cost of the more capable AH-64E Apache

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Aug 17

On Saturday in Bengaluru, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley underlined the growing capabilities of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) by inaugurating the production of the indigenous design Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), which HAL has designed, developed and will now manufacture.

On November 7, 2016, the defence ministry had cleared a Rs 2,911 procurement of 15 LCHs as a “limited series production” (LSP) order – a little under Rs 200 crore per helicopter. But top HAL sources tell Business Standard the final cost would work out to Rs 231 crore per LCH at 2017-18 prices.

This is less than half the cost of the AH-64E Apache attack helicopters the Indian Air Force (IAF) has bought from Boeing, USA. The Apache is more heavily armed and armoured and has the sophisticated Longbow fire control radar. The LCH does not yet have radar, but HAL intends to develops one before mass production begins.

HAL is building the 15 LSP choppers at its Bengaluru helicopter complex. However, the army has committed to ordering 114 LCHs, and the air force another 65, which could be built at an upcoming helicopter production facility in Tumkur.

HAL has custom-designed the 5.8 tonne LCH to provide fire support to the army at mountainous deployment areas on the northern borders, which can be as high as 6,000 metres (almost 20,000 feet).

At these rarefied altitudes, where the shortage of oxygen prevents troops from carrying heavy weapons into battle, the LCH will provide crucial fire support with its 20 millimetre turret gun, 70 millimetre rockets and, to be incorporated later, a guided missile.

“The LCH has demonstrated capability to land and take off from Siachen Range (sic) with considerable load, fuel and weapons that are beyond any other combat helicopter”, stated HAL on Saturday.

Highlighting the LCH’s versatility, HAL stated: “The helicopter can carry out operational roles under extreme weather conditions at different altitudes from sea level, hot weather desert, cold weather and Himalayan altitudes.”

The superb high-altitude performance of the LCH, like that of its precursor in service, the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH), stems from twin Shakti engines, designed for HAL by French helicopter engine maker Turbomeca (now Safran Helicopter Engines), and built in Bengaluru. While the Shakti’s performance at low altitudes is comparable to other engines of its size, it outperforms them significantly at altitudes above 5,000 feet.

The LCH has a narrow fuselage, in which two pilots sit one-behind-the-other in an armoured cockpit that can protect them from small arms firing. Like the Dhruv ALH, on which many of the LCH’s flying technologies were tested, the new attack helicopter has a hinge-less main rotor, a bearing-less tail rotor, integrated dynamic system, crashworthy landing gear and a smart all-glass cockpit.

The LCH’s weapons and sensors were developed and tested on an armed variant of the Dhruv, called the Rudra. HAL’s chairman, T Suvarna Raju, says this evolutionary approach drastically cut down on the LCH’s development time.

The current order does not include a provision for “performance based logistics” (PBL), which constitute an HAL guarantee that a specified percentage of the fleet is available at all times.

As Business Standard reported on March 30 (In a first, HAL assures 75% availability of Dhruv fleet) HAL signed its first PBL contract for the Dhruv, requiring it to position maintenance teams in up to 40 army aviation bases and two maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) hubs in the north and east, from where repair teams could respond to maintenance requests from aviation bases.

Hawk trainer upgrade

Jaitley also inaugurated an HAL-BAE Systems development programme that aims to enhance the Hawk trainer aircraft from an advanced jet trainer (AJT) into a combat-capable platform that “is capable of delivering precise munitions, including air to ground and close combat weapons”, according to HAL.

Unlike most fighter aircraft, including the Tejas, the Hawk cannot fly at supersonic speeds. Yet, there is a need for lower-performance combat aircraft that can fly and manoeuvre in valleys to support army soldiers in an environment where there is no major enemy air threat.

While the IAF has not yet committed to buying the so-called “combatised Hawk”, the presence of Jaitley at the dedication ceremony is significant. 


  1. Can you confirm the following :

    1. Whether the weaponisation work for the LCH is completed OR still on-going?

    2. Whether it's self-defence/countermeasures suite has not yet been installed/integrated?

    3. Does the price stated by HAL above include the above?

    If not, then you are projecting a very different picture than reality.

    To my knowledge, points 1 & 2 are not complete. If 1&2 are not complete, how can HAL state that the price of LCH is half of APACHE AH-64E. Also, the APACHE is a proven platform while the LCH is more the TIGER, which is still being finished.


  2. 200 LCH + 98 Rudra will mean a massive increase in fire power of our frontline corps.
    Great stuff. Congrats to the R&D team.
    we need to get these armed and dispatched ASAP to the frontline.
    Hope the 200 numbers are manufactured within next 5 years, not ten.

  3. It is important to develop namica which can be used with LCH as well as tejas to support the ground troops.the advanced hawk can be built with new engine HTFE 25 which can develop 36-40 KN. Which is developed for jaguars. I feel jaguars would be more capable with new engine. Right ow if India really wants to rebuilt the fire power of its Air Force , it must develop the AESA radar for light combat helicopter. Built the newer version of jaguar with new AESA radar with new engine that would dramatically increase the performance of jaguars as well as advanced hawks. Develop the Namica missile and mount eight of them on tejas and four of them on Advanced combat helicopter and they would have three ground support options for indevedual needs,


  4. Is any effort being made to indigenise the Shakti engine? I'm given to understand that we merely assemble it. Localisation would help in bringing down LCH's price.

  5. never understood why IAF had no objections to IA buying LCH and ALH but protests them buying apaches?
    BTW, LCH is another example of HAL failure - they started flying in 2010 and FOC is still years away!! if they had made many more protos then situation would have been different.
    Also how many years for them to build all for IA and IAF?

  6. To begin with, the development of the LCH is a wonderful tick mark on HAL's resume. One cannot wait to see combat ready LCHs deployed with the IA/IAF!

    Having said that, two comments for the fifteen LSP units,

    1) The LCH does not YET have a fire control radar and 'HAL intends to develop one before mass production begins'. Why 'intends'? In the absence of an indigenous radar, why not a foreign substitute till an indigenous version is made available?

    2) Going by news in the public domain, the LCH will be armed with the HeliNa. The development of the Nag and its helicopter launched version 'HeliNa' is like Birbal's khichdi - going on forever, with no end in sight! Until then will the LCHs go into battle, armed only with the chin mounted machine gun and rockets and no radar? Are there plans to equip them with the Hellfire or the French Brimstone AGMs?

    So, the question is - what is the utility of these fifteen LSP units, ostensibly in the absence of a fire control radar and guided AGMs?

  7. For people blaming HAL for LCH delay should understand that it was the UPA govt that decided the fate of LCH.

    Shakti engine is being indigenised - called HTSE 1200, 1200HP engine for Helicopters. Current Shakti is 1050HP engine. 1200HP engine will be a big boost.

    I don't understand fire control radar. Even tanks have them to lock a target, arm the missile and then fire. Since the range of helina missile is 7-8km and even hellfire of USA is 8km and considering the light weight needs at mountainous altitude, it is impractical to include additional weight in the form of radar. Weight carrying capacity at sea level may be 3 tons including fuel but decreases to 1.5-2 ton at 6000 metres at altitude


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