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IAF gets indigenous Light Combat Helicopter ‘Prachand’ after 23-yr journey that began after Kargil

Manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, it is the first attack helicopter that can operate in Siachen. Of the 15 sanctioned, 10 will go to Indian Air Force, 5 to Indian Army.

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Jodhpur: The Indian Air Force (IAF) Monday inducted the first batch of the indigenous Light Combat Helicopters (LCH), named LCH Prachand, 23 years after it was envisaged. It is the only attack helicopter in the world that can operate in Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield.

The first squadron of the LCH — 143 Helicopter Unit (HU) — was raised at the Jodhpur Air Base in the presence of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

Manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), its induction marks the culmination of a process that began at the end of the 1999 Kargil conflict.

IAF sources explained that the Kargil War battle reflected the need for an indigenously built helicopter that could carry a sufficient weapons load, and also operate at high altitudes of the Himalayas. The LCH fulfills exactly these requirements.

LCH has the distinction of being the first attack helicopter to land in forward bases at Siachen, 4,700 metres above sea level with a 500 kg load.

Seen as a force multiplier, the LCH, a 5.5-tonne class combat helicopter can undertake offensive operations in the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region, unlike other attack helicopters, like the Apache, which are heavier in size.

Interestingly, even before the formal induction, the LCH was deployed by the Indian armed forces in eastern Ladakh where India has been at a stand-off with the Chinese forces for over two years.

Powered by two Shakti engines, 20mm turret guns, 70mm rocket systems, and Mistral-2 air-to-air missiles, with a top speed of 330 kmph, the LCH’s induction is another significant moment for India’s indigenous military manufacturing.

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Indigenous design fit for the world

Group Captain Rajiv Kumar Narang (retd), now Director Strategic Initiatives at Drone Federation of India, tells ThePrint: “The LCH’s indigenous design allows it to operate at both sea-level and at mountains. No helicopter, in its class, can do this. It’s an Indian design fit for the world.”

Significantly, all the lessons learnt from shortcomings of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv and the Kargil conflict have been incorporated into its design, adds Narang.

According to the IAF, the LCH can also undertake anti-armour and anti-infantry roles, and anti-UAV operations. It can also be used for counter-insurgency (COIN) operations.

On 29 September, the Army received its first LCH from HAL.

The induction Monday comes six months after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by the Prime Minister, approved the procurement of 15 LCHs for Rs 3,887 crore. Further, the CCS also sanctioned funds for allied infrastructure procurement for Rs 377 crore. Out of the 15 sanctioned, 10 will go to the IAF, and five to the army.

Advanced features & 45 per cent indigenisation

The first prototype of the LCH flew in the early 2010, by mid-2010 the LCH had undergone three test trials and was deemed to have all the design requisites. Consequently, multiple trials were held at sea level, at the high-altitude of the Siachen glacier, in high-temperature regions, and desert areas prior to its induction, the air force said.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said the LCHs have been built with 45 per cent indigenisation in terms of value, which will be increased to 55 per cent in due course.

The LCHs two shakti engines have been developed by HAL along with the French Safran Group. Its unique ability is that it is the only attack helicopter in its class which can take off and land at high altitudes while being loaded with weapons and fuel.

With its agility, manoeuverability, extended range, high altitude performance and round-the-clock, all-weather combat capability, the MoD said it can perform multiple tasks, including Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (DEAD), Counter Insurgency Operations, against slow-moving aircraft and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), high altitude bunker busting operations, counter insurgency operations in the jungle and urban environments and give support to ground forces.

The MoD added it would be a potent platform to meet the operational requirements of the IAF and the army.

It said that state-of-the-art technologies and systems compatible with stealth features, such as reduced visual, aural, radar and IR signatures and crashworthiness features for better survivability, had been integrated into LCH for deployment in combat roles catering to emerging needs for the next three to four decades.

The LCH also has advanced features like helmet-mounted sights, forward-looking infra-red suppression systems, and glass cockpits. It is also equipped with self-sealing fuel tanks, bulletproof windshields, and damage-tolerant main rotor blades, sources in the IAF told ThePrint.

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Learning from the past, for the future

All the learnings from the design flaws of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv have been incorporated into the LCH.

“When the ALH was formulated, it was conceptualised as a machine that did not exist anywhere in the world. This has helped India to develop the LCH as a better and more practical machine. Consider the ALH as a base and stepping stone through which the LCH has been developed”, explains Narang, retired group captain.

“Now to take the momentum forward, we must incorporate fighters and UAVs that are manufactured indigenously into the armed forces,” said Narang.

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)

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