Light Combat Helicopter during flight trials at the National Flight Test Centre in Bangalore

Light Combat Helicopter developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is a multi-role combat helicopter for use by Indian Army and Indian Air Force. It is an attack helicopter derived from the existing HAL Dhruv helicopter. The LCH can be deployed in various roles, including tracking slow-moving aerial targets, insurgency, destroying enemy defences, search and rescue, anti-tank and scouting. It is one of the best weapon systems developed in India presently and has ushered Indian defence market in a new era of modernisation and Indigenisation.


During the 1999 Kargil War, operations of Indian Air Force were hampered as the only combat helicopter, the Mi-35, couldn’t operate at extremely high altitudes where most of the conflict was concentrated.

"The Mi-35 couldn’t even cross the Banihal pass. We were handicapped and badly needed a chopper that can even launch assaults at high altitudes,” Wing Commander Unni Pillai (Retd) , the chief test pilot of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) reminisced. India has always been at a back foot regarding attack helicopters in comparison to its regional rivals like Pakistan which operates nearly 48 Bell AH-1F/S Attack helicopters which it acquired from U.S. and will be getting CAIC Z-10 from China and T-129 'Atak' from Turkey in addition to Bell AH-1Z Viper from U.S. and Mi-35 'Hind-E' from Russia.

India on the other hand operated some 20 Mi-35 some of which has been donated to Afghanistan and indigenous HAL Rudra which is an armed variant of HAL Dhruv utility helicopters. India lacked any sort of offensive attack helicopters fleet and India needed dedicated attack helicopters to keep up its offensive teeth. Loopholes were highlighted when India could not deploy any attack helicopters for troop support in high altitude warfare during Kargil War.

The inability of the MI-25/MI-35 and even the armed MI-17 to operate at these heights resulted in a critical weapon system being left out of the battle, for which India paid a heavy price in terms of casualties. Accordingly, the government approved the development of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) by the state owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in 2006.


By capacity, LCH is multi-role as it is expected to play a major role in air defence against slow moving aerial targets, destruction of enemy air defence operations, escort to special heliborne operations, support of combat search and rescue operations, anti-tank role and scout duties. According to brochure, LCH is able to execute air defence role operations against slow moving targets like UAVs , DEAD ops along with Escort to Special Heliborne Operations and offensive employment in Urban Warfare and Counter-Surface Force Operations and COIN operations along with support of combat SAR operations. It can take off from an altitude of 10,000 feet, operate weapons at 16,300 feet, and engage targets like UAVs that are flying at altitudes of up to 21,300 feet.
In the anarchy of the modern battlefield, the attack helicopter is the ultimate predator. Operating from a forward base --- usually a small square of synthetic material tacked down onto a clearing in the fields --- the attack helicopter flies missions against enemy tanks, which are spotted by friendly scout helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Flying barely 20 feet above the ground, the attack helicopters close in with the enemy, often with rifle and machine-gun bullets spattering against their armoured bodies. Then popping up from behind a tree line, they fire missiles and rockets to destroy their targets; meanwhile sophisticated onboard electronics confuse the enemy’s radars for the couple of minutes it takes to finish the job. Then it’s back to the base to refuel and rearm, patch up the bullet holes, and leave for another mission against another target. LCH is well a cut above than its traditional rivals in such roles.


The LCH was declared ready for production in February 2020. A hangar was established at HAL's Helicopter Division in Bangalore for the production of the aircraft. In June 2020, it was announced that the first batch of LCH choppers ordered is due to enter service.


Though not in the same league as the deadly Apache, the LCH, by any yardstick is among the best attack helicopters in its class in operation today and not a low-end solution to "what a desperate air force and army needs" as claimed by some pesky defence analysts. Its high manoeuvrability coupled with ability to operate at high altitudes and rugged conditions with an impressive EW suite makes it one of the most formidable weapons platforms.

HAL has played well in the development of LCH catering to the armed forces demands in making a combat helicopter much above the world standards and capable to wreak havoc to enemy lines and defend itself with enhanced survivability features in hostile environments. However, LCH has taken way too long for the gunship to enter operational service, especially when there has been intermittent low-intensity conflicts with both Pakistan and China. Taking into account the long gestation period taken to operationlise critical weapons platforms for the armed forces by defence PSUs, it is high-time the govt looked for alternatives such as aggressively involving the private sector to hasten in designing, developing and manufacturing crucial weapons to safeguard the nation, as India's neighbourhood is surrounded by two very hostile nations and its part-time proxies. (Text: IDN, Fullafterburner)

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