New Delhi: The Ministry of Defence Tuesday approved the procurement of 12 Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) from state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), a government statement said. The move will finally pave the way for the replacement of the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleet of choppers.
These 12 new choppers will come under a limited series production configuration even as India’s overall demand for LUHs, meant for transportation of men and supplies to high-altitude areas besides evacuation and reconnaissance, is estimated to be over 400.
While HAL is expected to meet at least half the total requirement, Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd (IRGL), a joint venture between HAL and two Russian firms, Russian Helicopters and Rosoboronexport, will meet the rest. IRGL will manufacture Russian Kamov 226T helicopters in India.
HAL’s own project to supply the armed forces with LUH is expected to gather steam as the approval by the Defence Acquisition Council, which is headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, paves the way for a formal contract.
Sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint that the nod for 12 choppers, six each for the Army and the Indian Air Force, looks small but it is under limited series production.
“The first LUH will be delivered in August 2022 after which the forces will use them and will give their feedback and place further orders,” a source explained.
Sources said the ministry needs to clear Acceptance of Necessity for 175 more LUHs, a proposal that is pending. It is feared that without a sufficient order in time, capacities would idle and production would see delay due to non-availability of critical items.
Sources said the LUH has cleared all trials including in high-altitude regions like Ladakh during the ongoing stand-off with China. “The LUH has met all requirements of the armed forces as per what they sought. The production has already started at HAL’s new helicopter factory in Tumakuru in Karnataka,” a second source said.
These choppers will replace the Cheetah and Chetak fleet of helicopters that were designed in the 1960s.
LUH capable of high altitude operations
Even though the Cheetah and Chetak choppers are old and prone to crashes and high maintenance, they are a crucial lifeline for the armed forces, especially in high-altitude areas like the Siachen Glacier.
The LUH, which had received the Initial Operational Clearance for the Army from Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification earlier this year, is powered by a single turbo shaft engine Ardiden 1U from Safran Helicopter Engine, France.
It has a service ceiling of 21,325 ft and a range of 500 km with internal fuel tanks. Capable of a maximum speed of 235 kmph, the two-crew helicopter has a maximum take-off weight of 3150 kg.
The LUH is also equipped with Smart Cockpit Display System (glass cockpit), health and usage monitoring system and is designed for various utility and armed roles.