by D K Venkatesh & Dr. M Vijaya Kumar

A helicopter, with its inherent capability of vertical lift, hover, operation from any firm surface, is a versatile machine. It can be configured for multiple roles for exploitation in military and civil use. From basic role of ferrying personnel to combat, troop movement, logistical support in different terrains, reconnaissance and surveillance, counter-insurgency, a helicopter is a potent, low cost military platform. In civil operations, helicopters have been deployed for VIP movement, disaster management, offshore oil exploration, movement of Industry captains and their executives. Military helicopters need be built incorporating latest and futuristic technologies. India is aiming to achieve economic growth and its security objectives through indigenous development of defence technologies.

The Helicopter Division of Hindustan Aeronautics was established in 1962 as a part of its Bangalore Complex for manufacture of Chetak Helicopters under license from SUD Aviation, France. This Division was also responsible for repair and overhaul of these helicopters and to provide product support to the armed forces. Over the years, Helicopter Division has produced 355 Chetak helicopters, 276 Cheetah helicopters, 15 Cheetal helicopters and 205 Dhruv helicopters (ALH) till end of 2015.

Dhruv The Pole Star

Long ago having realised potential for versatility in role capability of a helicopter, HAL delved into developing variants of its own designed helicopter-Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). HAL took up indigenous design and development of an ALH in 1984. Production of these helicopters was taken up in the Helicopter Division in 1998. Initial version called ALH Mk-I and named as DHRUV was a utility helicopter which performed exceptionally well. ALH Mk-II was the technologically improved version with glass cockpit and higher engine power, primarily aimed at high altitude operations. Weaponising ALH was the next step forward, christened as RUDRA and has since been inducted by defence services.

HAL adopted contemporary technologies such as Hingeless Main Rotor, Bearing less Tail Rotor, Integrated Dynamic System, Anti-resonance Isolation System, Full Authority Digital Electronic Control for engine, Automatic Flight Control System, integrated architecture display system, glass cockpit etc in development of its ALH. Weaponized version and Light Combat Helicopter are integrated with modern weapons, turret gun, rockets and missiles. Besides, these versions boast of adequate electronic warfare suite. Future warfare necessitates secured communications on board the helicopter, secured data links, interoperability, enhanced survivability in net-centric warfare. Accordingly, helicopters need be developed for these capabilities. Indian industry would be the major player in developing these technologies/products for integration on helicopters for military operations.

Dhruv entered service in 2002. It is operated by the Indian Army, Indian Navy (IN), Indian Air Force (IAF), Indian Coast Guard (ICG), and Border Security Force (BSF). An important evolution for the Dhruv Mk-III fitted 1,400shp Turbomeca Ardiden 1H1/Shakti engines has enhanced high-altitude performance. Another incarnation is the armed Dhruv Mk-IV, also known as the Rudra is the Weaponized version of ALH.

Versatile Portfolio

HAL has also developed a dedicated attack helicopter, called Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and will produce more than 150 LCHs in coming years. The tandem-seat LCH is capable of reaching 6,500m, making it far more suitable for warfare in mountainous parts of the Himalayas than its contemporaries. The first LCH is planned to enter in the service in 2018-19, with its operational clearance planned in February 2017. The armament fit on LCH is same that of Rudra: a chin-mounted 20mm Turret Gun, four 70mm rocket pods and a pair of Air-to-Air Missile launchers on stub wings. The Electro-Optical Pod contains a CCD camera, Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR), Laser Range Finder and Laser Designator. Further, LCH is equipped with Helmet Mounted Display System with Night Vision Goggles (NVG) compatibility.

HAL has developed the 3-Tonne Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and its maiden technical flight took place on 6th Sept 2016. Recently, HAL has also designed the India Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) of 10-12 Heavy Tonne class, with a view to enhance its Helicopter product range.

A joint venture was signed between India & Russia to manufacture Kamov-226T multi-role helicopters by HAL. Through Ka-226T, Russia will be transferring modern technology that will benefit India not just for this project but for future projects, for the development of its own helicopter industry.

In Summary

This focus on indigenisation in these Helicopter Programs has paved way to build an ecosystem with effective supply chain covering the complete lifecycle of the platforms. To build up an ecosystem for Aerospace & Defence sectors, India needs technology and capability to cover the complete lifecycle of all Aerospace products encompassing R&D, engineering, manufacturing, testing and after sales services.

Over the next decades, India undoubtedly has the huge potential to become a significant part of the global aerospace supply chain with cost advantages in manufacturing, depending on the type of component. Indian Aerospace industry today has the technological capabilities to undertake complex manufacturing required for the sector – indeed there has been a remarkable growth of this sector, as a large number of private players have entered the sector.

D K Venkatesh is Director, Engineering and R&D, HAL and Dr. M. Vijaya Kumar is Executive Director, Rotary Wing Research and Design Centre (RWR&DC), HAL. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same