The Indian Army initiated the purchase of 15 indigenously designed and built Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). The IAF will take ten helicopters, and the army five.

Designed and developed for airborne operations in support of ground troops at high altitudes, it was unofficially named as ‘Tiger Bird’ perhaps inspired from its exceptional high agility and the logo painted on the prototype.

HAL sources say that the cost of each LCH will be Rs 231 crore the total cost which amount at Rs 3,465 crore. However, the overall cost for 179 LCHs, at current prices, adds up to Rs 41,350 crore.

These “limited series production” LCHs would be built in HAL's Tumkur plant near Bangalore. The army has committed to buy 114 LCHs while the Air Force will buy 64 of these state-of-the-art gunships.

The need for a combat helicopter became apparent during the Kargil conflict, when Indian soldiers had to attack enemy position on 15,000 feet-high mountains with little fire support, except from long-range artillery guns and rockets. It was decided then to develop an attack helicopter to support high-altitude operations.

This resulted in the LCH, a 5.5-ton helicopter powered by two Shakti engines, custom-developed by French engine maker, Turbomeca, to drive helicopters up to altitudes above 6,000 metres or 20,000 feet. A feat which is currently unmatched by any attack helicopter in the world.

Armed with a 20-millimetre turret gun, 70-millimetre rockets, air-to-air and anti-tank guided missiles, the LCH can pour fire onto enemy positions, easing their capture by Indian infantrymen who can carry only limited weaponry in those rarefied altitudes. 

"LCH has the distinction of being the first attack helicopter to land in forward bases at Siachen, 5,400 metres (17,700 feet) above sea level. The helicopter participated in IAF’s “Iron Fist 2016” exercise in March 2016 and displayed its rocket firing capabilities in its weaponised configuration,” said a HAL release on Friday.

The LCH has a narrow fuselage, with two pilots sitting in tandem in an armoured cockpit that protects them from bullets and shrapnel. The LCH’s flying technologies were tested on the Dhruv “advanced light helicopter” (ALH), which is a mainstay of the army’s aviation wing.

The features that are unique to LCH are its sleek and narrow fuselage, tri-cycle crash-worthy landing gear, tandem cockpit, self-sealing fuel tanks, hinge-less & bearing-less main rotor, integrated dynamic system, an intelligent, all-glass cockpit and aerofoil shaped stub wings for weapons, armour protection, Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) protection and low visibility features which make the LCH "lethal, agile and survivable.

This tender comes on the heels of another the IAF sent HAL on Wednesday, for the supply of 83 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft — an order worth some Rs 33,000 crore.

Our Bureau