India’s Army is slashing plans to buy foreign helicopters, ordering instead the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) now being developed by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), Bangalore.
The Army had planned to import about 198 helicopters over the next 10 to 15 years, but thanks to the LCH, the service now intends to buy only about 40 helicopters from Bell Helicopter in the United States, the Eurocopter consortium in France and Kamov in Russia, an Army official said.
Another LCH customer is the Indian Air Force, which already has spent $70 million on an initial order of 16 LCHs and is expected to order about 34 more in the next three years, a HAL official said. These purchases do not replace planned foreign orders. Delivery of the first batch is to begin next year and wrap up in 2007.
The two-engine, 5.5-ton LCH will carry a pilot and co-pilot/gunner in tandem to operate air-to-air missiles, 20mm guns, unguided rockets and cluster bombs, grenade launchers and anti-radiation missiles.
The helicopter will be equipped with missile warning systems, anti-missile countermeasures, and night-attack-capable cockpit displays. Its narrow fuselage will be stealthy, and its landing gear will be built to handle hard landings.
The LCH is intended to shoot down unmanned aerial vehicles and slow-moving aircraft, escort troop-carrying copters on special operations, destroy enemy air defenses, fight in urban environments, and blow up tanks and other vehicles.
The LCH grew out of India’s Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) program, begun in 1970 to replace Cheetah and Chetak helicopters and currently almost 10 years behind schedule. The ALH, developed in collaboration with Eurocopter, uses about 40 percent Indian-made components and is powered by two TM 333-2B2 French Turbomeca engines.
The Indian Air Force began looking for an armed helicopter that could operate at very high altitudes after its Mi-25 and Mi-35 gunships fared poorly in the 1999 Kargil war, the HAL official said.
India’s military and Coast Guard currently own more than 450 attack and transport helicopters.