India`s combat chopper takes to skies

India`s indigenous combat helicopter today took to the skies, marking its first official flight.

Last Updated: May 23, 2010, 17:29 PM IST

Bangalore: India`s first indigenous combat
helicopter capable of participating in anti-Naxal and counter
terrorism operations on Sunday took to the skies, marking its
first official flight at the HAL airport here.

The Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), designed and developed
indigenously by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in
four years since the project began in 2006, is likely to be
ready for induction by the Army and Air Force before 2014.

Witnessed by IAF Vice Chief Air Marshal PK Barbora and
Defence Production Secretary RK Singh, the 10-minute flight
display caught the attention of those present at the venue,
with the 5.8-tonne chopper showcasing its manoeuvrability and
stability, including one of the most difficult moves -- reverse
slide.

Defence Minister A K Antony and IAF Chief Air Chief
Marshal P V Naik did not attend the event in view of the
tragic air crash of a civilian flight in Mangalore yesterday,
which claimed 158 lives.

"It is a red letter day for not only HAL, but the whole
nation. I am quite positive the aircraft will meet all IAF
requirements in this class of helicopters. The first display
has been superb," Barbora said at a function soon after
witnessing the maiden flight of the LCH.

He said very few countries around the world had the
capability to indigenise a helicopter of this class, but at
the same time cautioned HAL that it must learn from its past
mistakes and not repeat them.

Barbora said though the helicopter was bulky and heavy,
it was a versatile aircraft and the problems with its weight
would be solved as years go by.

Singh, in his address, said LCH was a "truly fine"
machine and the indigenous development of the helicopter had
both strategic and economic reasons.

He said it was important for a country to be independent
of other nations when it comes to its defence production and
research and development capabilities.

Moreover, import of weapons led to job creation in other
country, as India spent billions every year to equip its armed
forces.

"I would like to set a deadline of four years from now
for the LCH to be inducted into the armed forces and I feel it
is a reasonable time frame for HAL to achieve," he added.

HAL chairman Ashok Nayak said the defence PSU had already
bagged an order for supplying 65 of these combat helicopters
to the IAF and the Army was showing keen interests in buying a
large number for its Army aviation wing.

The IAF currently operates two squadrons of combat
helicopters comprising Russian-origin Mi-25s and Mi-35s.

Though a derivative of the Advanced Light Helicopter
(ALH) `Dhruv` was already inducted into the armed forces for
passenger and cargo transport, LCH`s primary roles would be in
air defence against slow moving aerial targets, destruction of
enemy air defence operations, provide escort to heliborne
special operations, counter surface force operations,
anti-tank and scout duties.

It can be used effectively by paramilitary forces in
their anti-Maoist operations in Central India and by Army in
counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the
Northeast.

For that purpose, the LCH is armed with 20-mm turret gun,
air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, anti-radiation
missiles, 70-mm rockets, and cluster or iron bombs, defence
officials said.

It also has Nuclear-Biological-Chemical (NBC) attack
protection, electronic warfare suite and counter-measures when
it comes under enemy fire.

The chopper has advanced features such as night operation
capability, armour protection, a glass cockpit with tandem
seating for two pilots and stealth features.

The helicopter, powered by twin Shakti engines developed
by HAL in association with French Turbomeca, can achieve a top
speed of 268 kmph and has a range of 550 km with internal fuel
tanks. It can extend its range by another 250 km using drop
tanks, they said.

For enhanced survivability of both the aircraft and crew,
LCH would have a crash-worthy bottom structure, tail wheel
landing gear and pressurised cockpit with NBC filters.

Since LCH is based on a successful and proven Dhruv
design, the project cost of the combat helicopter is likely to
be as low as Rs 3.76 billion.

Prior to its maiden official flight, the LCH had done
about 25 rounds of trial flying in the Bangalore skies over
the last two months to prove the effectiveness of its systems.

PTI