Modi To Hand Over Indigenous Light Combat Helicopter To IAF Today: Here's Everything You Should Know About It

by Swarajya Staff - Nov 19, 2021 03:09 PM +05:30 IST
Modi To Hand Over Indigenous Light Combat Helicopter To IAF Today: Here's Everything You Should Know About ItA light combat helicopter.
Snapshot
  • LCH, India’s first indigenously-built dedicated attack helicopter, has been designed and built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will formally hand over the indigenously-built light combat helicopter (LCH) to the Indian Air Force (IAF) today (19 November) in Uttar Pradesh's Jhansi.

LCH, India’s first indigenously-built dedicated attack helicopter, has been designed and built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The helo has been operating with the IAF in Ladakh since last year. Two of these helicopters reached Ladakh from Bengaluru in August 2020, a report in Livefist says. The helos have been flying armed patrol sorties in the region amid reports of China’s unwillingness to move back its forces from areas it occupied along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in May.

The LCH has been built to meet the requirements of the Indian military in high-altitude areas. It has demonstrated its capability of operating in high-altitude conditions during trials not only in Ladakh but also on the Siachen Glacier. Equipped with HAL's new-generation Shakti engine, co-developed with French engine-maker Safran, the 5.5 tonne helo has been designed to operate at an altitude of up to 20,000 feet.

“During the Kargil War of 1999, there was a need felt for armed attack helicopters capable of operating at high altitude. That’s where the LCH fits in,” former Indian Air Force chief Fali Homi Major, the only helicopter pilot to become Chief of Air Staff, wrote recently.

The combat helicopter comes armed with a cannon mounted below its nose, capable of piercing light armour with a thousand 20-millimetre bullets each minute. It carries 70-millimetre rockets on pods on either side.

The helo can also be armed with an air-to-air missile and an anti-armour missile — two weapons absolutely necessary for it to realise its full potential in combat. Both these crucial weapons are currently missing on the LCH, and it is solely dependent on its chin-mounted gun and 70-mm rockets for offensive operations.

MBDA’s Mistral air-to-air missile has been test-fired from the LCH, and the HAL has procured and integrated Mistral-specific launchers on the platform.

LCH firing an MBDA Mistral air-to-air missile.   
LCH firing an MBDA Mistral air-to-air missile.  

However, the missile is not yet part of the arsenal.

After years of negotiations and delay, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told MBDA in 2018 that its offer was too expensive. Later that year, MBDA came up with a new offer with lower cost but there has been little to no movement on this front since.

According to HAL sources cited in this Livefist report, “the benchmarking of price for the Mistral missile was questionably low”.

“The benchmarking discrepancy, an MoD source said, was as much as 60 per cent. The HAL sources cited above said there was reason to wonder if someone was trying to ‘derail’ the procurement of missiles for... LCH,” the report reads.

The procurement of anti-tank missiles for LCH, a necessity given that the Chinese have deployed light tanks along the LAC amid the standoff, has faced delays.

While indigenous anti-tank missile HELINA is still in trials, Indian Army’s effort to arm it with a foreign anti-tank missile hasn’t moved forward.

Even as the helicopter waits for its weapons, HAL remains confident that the first order from the Indian military for the type will come “very soon”.

“We have concluded price negotiations. We are now awaiting financial sanction. By the end of this year, we should see the initial order for 15,” HAL chairman R Madhavan said recently, adding that he expects the numbers to go up to over 150.

HAL has already started working on five new air-frames so that it can deliver ahead of time when the first order for LCH arrives.

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