HAL spins a success story with light helicopters - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 5 October 2022

HAL spins a success story with light helicopters

Capital expenditure funds designated for foreign attack helicopters, such as the Apache (shown above) could be diverted towards Prachanda Light Combat Helicopters


By Ajai Shukla

Unsigned editorial in Business Standard

5th October 22

The Indian Air Force (IAF) raised its first squadron of the light combat helicopter (LCH) on Monday, with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh christening the new chopper “Prachanda”. With that, India’s aerospace monopoly, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), is on its way to mass manufacturing its second light helicopter for the army and the IAF. Last March, the government sanctioned the manufacture of 15 Prachanda LCHs for Rs 3,887 crore, or about Rs 260 crore each, while approving the expenditure of Rs 377 crore more on a production line. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg: HAL has been told to expect orders for 65 Prachanda helicopters for the IAF and 97 for the army. And if these specialist, high-altitude, attack helicopters prove their worth on India’s Himalayan borders, there could be many more on order. LCH is making waves as the world’s only attack helicopter that can land and take-off at altitudes of 5,000 metres (16,400 feet) with considerable weapons and fuel loads that meet the requirements of troops deployed in sectors such as Siachen and Kargil. 


The government’s focus on “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) and its earmarking of 68 per cent of the defence capital budget for domestic purchases would require funds designated for foreign attack helicopters, such as the Apache, to be diverted for creating a fleet of Prachanda LCHs.


HAL’s success in designing and eventually manufacturing the Prachanda replicates a successful production path that it first adopted with the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH). The Dhruv was initially powered by the TM333 2B2 engine, obtained from French firm Turbomeca (now Safran Helicopter Engines). But HAL quickly realised that India’s rugged borders required more powerful engines and so, worked with Safran to develop the so-called Shakti engine. 


This one-of-a-kind, high-altitude power pack transformed the Dhruv into exactly the helicopter the Indian military needed. The initial order for 159 Dhruvs was quickly increased by 54 more helicopters and, as the obsolescent, single-engine Cheetah and Chetak helicopters are phased out of service, could increase to 400 choppers.


When the LCH entered development, its designers wasted no time in adopted the same power pack as the Dhruv ALH – twin Shakti engines – in order to achieve the same performance at high altitudes. Going by how pleased the army is with the LCH as a fire-support platform, it is estimated that HAL will eventually build at least 180 of these attack helicopters. Meanwhile, HAL turned yet again to the Indo-French Shakti engine to power what is emerging as a third successful indigenous helicopter – the eponymous Light Utility Helicopter (LUH). Since the Shakti engine is used in this helicopter in a single-engine configuration, it has required additional certification from civil aviation authorities abroad. With that completed, the LUH is well along in high-altitude flight-testing. For manufacturing multiple LUH variants, HAL has acquired 615 acres of land in Tumkur and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has laid the foundation stone for a new plant.

HAL is looking to translate its success in developing three types of light helicopters into producing a medium lift helicopter – designated the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH). This is a far more challenging task, which will require identifying a foreign partner and working with an existing design. HAL has sent out Requests for Information and has evaluated the responses. The military will now study the data and hammer out joint tri-service requirements. 

1 comment:

  1. Finally it comes to Modi to make it happen. 23 years after the need and Atmanirbhar Drive


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