Indian army commissions light combat helicopter (LCH)
The Indian Air Force (IAF) received the Indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) as part of the “Make in India” initiative. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently symbolically handed over the LCH to IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari.
In the aftermath of the Kargil War in 1999, the IAF felt the need for a powerful helicopter capable of high-altitude precision strikes. This laid the foundation for LCH’s research and development, which received Indian government sanction in October 2006.
After the IAF, the Army Aviation Corps (AAC) also joined the program in December. The combined IAF and AAC CHL needs reached 160.
Why LCH is a powerful platform
Developed by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the LCH is a twin-engine helicopter weighing between five and eight tonnes. It is touted as the only attack helicopter in the world capable of taking off and landing at altitudes up to 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) while benefiting from a large payload.
The LCH becomes an excellent support platform for troops deployed in high altitude areas (HAA). It can operate at different temperatures, ranging from 50 degrees Celsius in snowy peaks to 50 degrees Celsius in the desert.
This makes it a very flexible platform that adapts to the various deployment models of Indian military personnel.
As a light attack helicopter, the native helicopter delivers a deadly punch with air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. It is armed with a 20mm cannon and can carry 70mm rockets. The LCH can acquire and neutralize air and ground targets using advanced avionics and weapons.
The crusher is manually operated during operations and can be erected 180 degrees and even inverted. The LCH can even rotate 360 degrees; this implies that the attack helicopter can be turned quickly in the air itself.
A dedicated combat helicopter
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) claimed in its press release that the LCH is a dedicated combat helicopter designed and developed locally for the first time in India.
The LCH is the only attack helicopter in the world capable of landing and taking off at an altitude of 5,000 m (16,400 ft) with a considerable load of weapons and fuel to meet the specific needs of the Indian armed forces.
HAL has proactively undertaken prior actions to launch the production activities of 15 LCH LSPs with internal funding. The supply of equipment for the 15 helicopters has been completed. Three helicopters are ready for delivery to users and the balancing helicopters are in advanced stages of production.
HAL has initiated various planning activities and has developed a detailed master plan to achieve peak production capacity of 30 helicopters per year to meet the production of the balance of 145 LCH.
Enhanced Electronic Warfare (EW) Suite, Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM), Air-to-Ground Missiles, Data Link, Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM), Bombs, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Protection, and Wire Cutter are being integrated into the LCH.
Being a unique helicopter in this weight class and with this kind of capabilities, LCH should also have good export potential.
Will LCH be a game-changer for the IAF?
Former IAF deputy chief Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (retired) told the EurAsian Times: “It is a good induction especially for use in mountainous terrain. It was long overdue. I hope that India, whether it is the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) or private industry, will be able to develop the engine technology that will make many great weapon systems truly Made in India.“
Author and analyst, group captain TP Srivastava (retired) said: “Induction of LCH in IAF is a great Aboriginal achievement. But only if it works better than Dhruv.
Major General Capt. Jhonson Chacko (retired) gave his opinion, “Much of our land borders are in the mountains. [LCH is] the best platform for launching air-to-ground weapons is a slow plane because it gives the pilot enough time. It’s a shame that it took us a war (Kargil) to realize this even though everyone knew about the existence of the Himalayas and the ’62 war. The launch of the LCH is long overdue.
“This can dull the enemy’s attack capabilities and disrupt their logistics. The tension with China should not be a trigger for us to react. We must develop the capacity to fight in the mountains. Ranged weapons will increase the survivability of the CHL.
When asked if this development is likely to boost India’s indigenization goals, the veteran fighter pilot said: “The increase in indigenization depends on the increase in the percentage of fully native parts in the helicopter with ALH as a base.“
Military author, columnist and analyst Joseph P Chacko said: “The CHL gives the Indian military an advantage in high altitude warfare that no other country has. In low altitudes, it is better than neighboring fields. Being a Chopper of Indian descent, India also controls ease of maintenance. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), air-to-air, and night-and-day capabilities of the LCH were proven in testing.
Regarding the Chinese assertion along the eastern sector of the LAC, the analyst said, “This [the LCH] already works at LAC. It is good to destroy Chinese tanks, convoys and bunkers. The LCH was intended to take out hard-to-reach targets in the mountains like those in the Kargil War.“
Group captain Badal Debnath (retired) said: “Attack helicopters are going to play a very important role in any future war. India needs an armed gunship to effectively attack enemy tank formations during battle. The introduction of the CHL is a great way to make our airborne forces more powerful.“
Explaining the LCH deployment in the eastern sector of LAC, the IAF veteran said that the LCH will provide Indian forces with a great tactical advantage in the mountains over PLA assets as we will be able to overcome very easily the limitations of the mountainous terrain. “If necessary, LCH can also attack the enemy in depth,” he added.
Emphasizing the indigenization of the defense industry, Captain General Badal said: “Yes, we have been importing our major weapon systems for 70 years… it is time for the Indian Armed Forces to encourage indigenous weapon platforms. LCH is a big step forward towards Atma Nirbhar Bharat.“
Air Vice-Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retired), the former additional director general of the Center for Airpower Studies (CAPS), had tweeted about this development: “There is NO helicopter in the world that can deliver armament at 15,000 feet. I’ve been writing since 2012, when I first rode it, that we have to go all out for LCH. Well, he’s officially inducted – let’s make sure all the promised weaponry and avionics arrive. “
LCH’s enthronement complements Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent statement that India intends to achieve 90% indigenization of defense equipment.