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Looking at procuring nearly 200 combat & utility helicopters, says Army chief at Aero India

Indigenisation of air defence guns are priority & integrated electronic warfare systems are being tested along Line of Actual Control, says Gen. Manoj Pande

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Bengaluru: The Army is looking at procuring nearly 95 Prachand Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) for mountain warfare, as well as nearly 110 Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) to replace the ageing Cheetahs and Chetaks, Army chief Gen. Manoj Pande said Tuesday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing Aero India event in Bengaluru, he said that while the Army is getting an initial lot of six Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs) from HAL, it has sought certain improvements such as autopilot capability.

In addition, the Army expects to get all six American Apache attack helicopters it has ordered in 2024, and any further additional orders will depend on how the Prachands shape up, Gen. Pande said in answer to ThePrint’s question.

“We have the combat aviation arm, which is equipped with the weaponised Advanced Light Helicopters and is known as the ALH WSI. There are about 45 such helicopters. We currently have five LCHs, of which three have been delivered. We are looking at a total of about 90-95 LCHs,” he said while speaking to a group of reporters here.

The Army chief added that the LCH is very versatile in terms of manoeuvrability and has been found to be “better suited for high altitude”. The LCHs are largely for the mountains, he said.

ThePrint had reported that while both the IAF and the Army have raised their first squadron of LCHs, the helicopter lacks its main arsenal and protection suites for now and will take time to be fully operational.

The LCH helicopter — also known as the tank buster — will get its anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) only by mid-2023. And while it is integrated with air-to-air missile launchers, the missile has not been ordered yet, sources in the defence and security establishment had told ThePrint.

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Relevance of helicopters in warfare

The Army chief said that the anti-tank missile selected for the LCHs was the indigenous Helina, which has cleared trials.

“But the integration of the missile with the weapons platform is very important and that is something that we are very keen on,” he said.

Speaking about the indigenous LUHs, the Army chief said they fall in the category of recce and observation.

The Army has about 250 Cheetahs and Chetaks, which will be replaced by the LUHs, Gen. Pande said. Although the Army is looking at about 110 of these, he added, that number will increase with time.

Asked if the Army was relying too much on attack helicopters — which have proved to be a disaster in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war — Gen. Pande said that helicopters would have relevance in warfare in the future. It’s a constant game between helicopters and anti-helicopter systems, he added, just as it is with tanks and anti-tank systems.

“The new helicopters will have a number of suites to operate in contested environments,” he said.

The Army chief also said that indigenisation of air defence guns was a priority for the force and that integrated electronic warfare systems are being tested along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). 

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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