India has a fleet of diverse military aircraft, and the Indian Air Force is the fourth largest Air Force in the world. Aerospace power, defined as the ability to project power from the air and space to influence the course of events, is expected to dominate the security environment in the 21 century.

There is a need for Military Forces to be able to project a joint capability in order to maximise the efficiency of the given mission. There is a requirement to build capabilities that allow seamless integration of joint operations among the Indian defence services. The HAL Dhruv is a robust and trusted utility helicopter designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The development of HAL Dhruv was announced in November 1984. The helicopter first took to the sky in 1992. The name comes from the ancient Sanskrit word Dhruv which means unshakeable. This helicopter has the distinction of serving the Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard.

The multi-role capable Dhruv entered service in 2002. It is designed to meet the requirement of both military and civil operators, with military variants of the helicopter being developed for the Indian Armed Forces. Military versions in production include transport, utility, reconnaissance and medical evacuation variants. Based on the Dhruv platform, the HAL Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), a dedicated attack helicopter and HAL Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), a utility and observation helicopter are currently being developed. The Dhruv chopper has two pilots and can carry 12 personnel. It has a payload of 1,500 kg for underslung operations with a cruising speed of 250 Kmph. The pilots can reach a service ceiling of 6,100 metres and this Indian military helicopter has an endurance of almost four hours.

Deliveries of the Dhruv commenced in January 2002, nine years after the prototype’s first flight. The Indian Coast Guard was the first Service to operate the Dhruv; this was followed by the Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Air Force and the Border Security Force. It is recorded 75 Dhruvs were delivered to the Indian Armed Forces by 2007. The Indian Air Force Sarang aerobatic display team performs its aerial displays using four Dhruv helicopters. This dynamic team dazzled Sri Lankan crowds at the 70th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), where they displayed their flying prowess above the Galle Face Green, Colombo. I was fortunate to meet these pilots and the daring pilots of the Indian Air Force Surya Kiran jet fighter aerobatics team.

In 2007, another order for 166 helicopters was placed by the Indian Army. India may order up to 12 Dhruvs outfitted with an onboard emergency medical suite, to be used by the Armed Forces Medical Services for MEDEVAC purposes. The Dhruv is capable of flying at high altitudes, as it was an Army requirement for the helicopter to be able to operate in the Siachen Glacier and Kashmir regions. The Siachen Base Camp is positioned at 12,000 feet above sea level at Partapur. This cold and rugged mountain region is the base camp of the 102 Infantry Brigade (Siachen Brigade) of the Indian Army which protects 110 km of the border with almost 108 forward military outposts and artillery observation posts. There is no road transport to this area and air transport is the lifeline that sustains hundreds of Indian soldiers. The HAL Dhruv helicopter is the safe workhorse that flies in food rations, medicine and ammunition to these remote ice-laden mountains. To these soldiers, the swirling rotors of the helicopter are always a welcome sight. In September 2007, the Dhruv MK-III was cleared for high-altitude flying in the Siachen Sector after six months of trials. In October 2007, a Dhruv MK-III flew to an altitude of 27,500 feet (8,400 m) in Siachen to the great satisfaction of the Indian Army.

The Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) programme for an indigenous five-tonne multi-role helicopter was initiated in May 1979 by the Indian Air Force and Indian Naval Air Arm. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was given a contract by the Indian Government in 1984 to develop the helicopter and Germany’s Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB) were contracted in July 1984 as a design consultant and collaborative partner on this important programme. Although originally scheduled to fly in 1989, the first prototype ALH (Z-3182) made its maiden flight on August 20, 1992 in Bangalore. This was followed by a second prototype (Z-3183) on April 18, 1993, an Army/Air Force version (Z-3268), and a navalised prototype (IN.901) with Allied Signal CTS800 engines and a retractable tricycle undercarriage. The multi-role helicopter opened a new dimension in airborne operations for the Indian Defence Services. Development problems arose due to the changing military demands but the challenges were met with resilient success.

Naval testing onboard INS Viraat and other ships started in March 1998, and around the same time, a weight-reduction programme was initiated to enhance the mission capacity. The Turbomeca TM 333-2B2 turboshaft engine was selected as a replacement; in addition, Turbomeca agreed to co-develop a more powerful engine with HAL, originally known as the Ardiden. Turbomeca also assisted in the development of the helicopter, stress analysis and studies of rotor dynamics were conducted in France. The first flight of Dhruv with a new engine variant, called the Shakti, took place on August 16, 2007 with immense national pride.

The cockpit section of the fuselage is of Kevlar and carbon-fibre construction; it is also fitted with crumple zones and crashworthy seats. The aircraft is equipped with a SFIM Inc four-axis automatic flight control system. Avionics systems include a HF/UHF communications radio, IFF recognition, Doppler navigation, and a radio altimeter; weather radar and the Omega navigation system were options for the naval variant. The Advanced Light Helicopter is an extremely potent platform for naval ships. It has the advanced avionics to operate over the sea and blade folding capability to be stored in ship-borne hangers.

The challenges of landing on deck are that the landing deck is moving and thus the pilot’s skills have to be developed with practice. Towards capacity building of the Indian Government, the ALH is being used to train the SLAF in co-pilot experience for landing on the ship’s deck and at the same time, training the Sri Lanka Navy ships in recovery and handling of helicopters on deck. This training will be a major capacity enhancement for the SLN and SLAF. This formidable helicopter has been at the centre of air operations for the Indian military.