The Indian Army has moved its first squadron of Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) to the Northeast sector this month

While the IAF inducted its first LCHs at Jodhpur on 3 October this year, the Indian Army had quietly raised its first unit of the made-in-India attack helicopter — 351 Army Aviation Squadron — at Bangalore in June.

The squadron is now deployed at Missamari in Assam, not far from the Air Force Station in Tezpur, which hosts Su-30MKI fighters of the IAF.

“Two helicopters have moved there on 1 November. The third helicopter will move by November-end and fourth by mid-December. Army will receive the 5 th LCH by January-end. The squadron will be fully operational by then,” The Hindu quoted an unnamed source as saying.

The Army had raised a new aviation brigade at Missamari in March 2021, in the middle of a tense military standoff with China in eastern Ladakh and heightened tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The new brigade has three squadrons equipped with Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH), Cheetah helos and Heron drones. It also has the weaponised version of the ALH, called Rudra.

Missamari is located at an aerial distance of 250 km from the LAC.

Over the next few years, the Army plans to induct 95 LCHs. Out of these, seven units of LCH, each with ten helicopters, will be deployed in the mountainous areas, including the LAC with China.

The helicopter has been built to meet the requirements of the Indian military in high-altitude areas in Kashmir, Ladakh, and Arunachal.

It has demonstrated its capability of operating in high-altitude conditions during trials not only in Ladakh but also on the Siachen Glacier, often referred to as the 'world's highest battlefield'. Two LCHs were deployed in Ladakh in August 2020 amid the standoff with China.

Equipped with HAL's new-generation Shakti engine, co-developed with French engine-maker Safran, the 5.8-ton helo has been designed to operate at an altitude of up to 20,000 feet.

The LCH comes armed with a cannon, which is mounted below its nose. It is capable of piercing light armour with a thousand 20-millimetre (mm) bullets each minute. It also carries 70-mm rockets on pods on either side.

The helicopter can also be armed with air-to-air missiles to target slow-moving aircraft and anti-armour missiles to destroy tanks. However, it currently lacks these weapons. While the anti-tank guided missiles will be available by mid-2023, air-to-air missiles are yet to be ordered.

European missile-maker MBDA's Mistral air-to-air missile has been test-fired from the helicopter, and the HAL has procured and integrated Mistral-specific launchers on the platform.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially handed over the helicopter to the IAF in Uttar Pradesh's Jhansi on 19 November last year.

According to the Ministry of Defence, the limited series production version of the LCH has around 45 per cent indigenous content by value.

In the series production version, indigenous content will be progressively increased to more than 55 per cent of the total value.