The Indian Air Force came into being during 1932. At that time it had only fixed wing aircraft. This state of affairs continued till the fifties when the first helicopter was introduced. This was the Allouette a French light communication helicopter which was inducted into the Indian Air Force inventory, during the late fifties of the last century. A version of the Allouette called the Lama with Skis in place of wheels was used in the snow regions of the Himalayas. The Allouette was rechristened as the Cheetah and was manufactured under license at Hindustan Aeronautics ltd at Bangalore.
The Army aviation Air observation posts of the artillery regiments were equipped with the Allouette. Earlier the Army aviation flights had the Otter, a single engine plane. Subsequently the Indian Air Force went in for bigger and heavier Russian machiness and the MI-15, MI-17 and MI-35 entered service with the IAF.
A need was felt for an advanced light combat helicopter by both the Army aviation and the Indian air force. This was essential as tactical air support and close air support including anti-terrorist operations requires an advanced light combat helicopter. Hindustan Aeronautics has thus designed a Light Combat helicopter (LCH).
The development of the LCH
The LCHbeing developed at Hindustan Aeronautic factory at Bangalore will be a 5.5 ton machinee and will be powered by twin engines. This will give the chopper greater thrust and power. The engines used will be the Shakti engines which have been developed by HAL and in reality are higher powered versions of the TM 333-282 engines which are used to power the advanced light helicopter (ALH). Dhruv is already in production.
The light Combat helicopter has a sleek and narrow fuselage with a tri-cycle landing gear configuration that will be crash resistant. Part of the technology used in the Dhruv like the rotor system, power plant, hydraulics and avionics will be common with the Dhruv.
Another important feature that will be a great help in combat is the self sealing fuel ltanks. Thus a shot that can rupture a tank will have little effect as the tank will seal itself automatically. The chopper will also have armor plating to withstand small arms gun fire while operating in a tactical support role. More important the helicopter will have built-in nuclear, biological and chemical protection (NBC).
To help the crew the LCH will have a CCD camera for lateral and transverse view of the battle zone as well as electronics on board to facilitate use of laser guided weapons which will automatically lock and focus on the target. Its targeting mechanism would be all-weather with special night fighting capability. The crew will incorporate a gunner who will activate the guns on board through a helmet mounted gun sight. This is one of the most advanced features of the Indian LCH.
The LCH will have ECM (electronic counter measures) on board and will also carry missiles. Thus it can take evasive action against shoulder fired missiles. The makers of this chopper are confident that it will meet the requirements of the Army aviation and Indian Air Force.
The Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH)
The defense forces have expressed an additional requirement for an advanced multi role battle helicopter. Accordingly engineers at HAL are designing a 12.5 ton battle chopper. This helicopter will incorporate a multifunction display system (MFD) as well as have integrated architecture avionics, as well as a full-fledged computer on board. This computer will be comparable to the MIL 1553C computers on board the US helicopters.
Being a multi role helicopter the machine will be compatible to use for attack and close support role, as well as causality evacuation, air sea rescue missions, heliborne troop operations in a specified area or behind enemy lines. It will also form a part of the equipment of the special forces of the Indian army as well the Navy for anti submarine warfare. Thus this chopper will have a multi-role capability and will form part of the arsenal of all the 3 services, army, air force and navy.
The Light Utility Helicopter (LUH)
The LUH already devolved by HAL is a 3 ton machine. The helicopter has a glass cockpit and is extremely maneuverable. It can do contour flying and hug the hills as it traverses the countryside. The major roles of this chopper are reconnaissance, surveillance and also for quick communication. It is powered by a single Shakti engine and has a cruising speed of 220 km and a ceiling of over 6.5 km. The helicopter prototype was launched in Feb. 2009 and has a range of 350 km. It has a payload of 400 kg and can be used for high altitude causality evacuation. The air force wants to use this helicopter in Siachan Glacier, where the operating heights are over 20,000 ft.
Five of these advanced utility choppers have been so far given to the Army aviation corps. One chopper has also been sold to Namibia. HAL is putting great efforts to market the Dhruv to foreign nations.
Indian aviation is on the threshold of an exciting expansion and HAL is gearing up also to the manufacture of the 5th generation fighter aircraft and the advanced Transport plane, both of which are being built with Russian collaboration.