The delivery of six Apache attack helicopters from the US will take place between February and June next year and will provide integrated combat aviation support to the Army's strike corps. Additionally, plans have been finalized to acquire 156 indigenous 'Prachand' light combat helicopters for offensive operations in high-altitude areas reports TOI.

The Army is gearing up to induct the first lot of AH-64E Apache attack helicopters from February 2024 onwards and will be deployed in the desert sector, while the bigger contract for 156 indigenous Light Combat Helicopters (LCH "Prachand"), 90 for the Army and 66 for the Indian Air Force, estimated to cost ₹45,000 crore, is expected to be taken up by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) next week.

“The first Apache attack helicopter is scheduled to be delivered in February 2024. As part of the deal, six pilots and 24 technicians were trained by Boeing in the U.S. Delivery of all six Apaches would be completed by April 2024,” a defence source said. The DAC is expected to meet next week when the case for the 156 LCH "Prachand" will be taken up for consideration, two sources independently stated.

The Army Aviation, which has so far operated utility helicopters, inducted its first dedicated attack helicopter with the LCH "Prachand" and the first squadron, 351 Army Aviation, was moved to Air Force Quarters, Missamari, Assam in the eastern sector near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) last November.

The Cabinet Committee had given sanction for the procurement of 39 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the U.S. Following this, the IAF had inducted 22 Apaches under a deal signed in September 2015 following which the government has decided any further Apache procurements would go to the Army. In line with this, India signed a deal for six more Apaches, for the Army, at a cost of around $800 million in February 2020. There is a slight delay in deliveries of the Apaches due to the COVID pandemic.

While the Army has been pushing the case for 11 more Apaches, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) recently ordered a study on the number of armoured helicopters required which is expected to commence end-November or early-December. So, officials said, the call on additional Apaches would be taken once the study was complete. The Army currently operates 75 Rudra, the armed version of the Advanced Light Helicopter.

Modernisation Plans

Talking of the IAF’s modernisation plans and indigenous push, Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari recently said they had inducted 10 LCH "Prachand" last year, in the 143 Helicopter Unit ‘Dhanush’, and are looking at signing a contract in the coming year for a total of 156 of them, 66 of which would be for the IAF.

In March 2020, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved procurement of 15 Limited Series Production (LSP) variants of LCH "Prachand" at a cost of ₹3,887 crore, along with infrastructure sanctions worth ₹377 crore, 10 for the IAF and five for the Army.

The twin-engine LCH "Prachand" designed and developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is a 5-8 ton class dedicated combat helicopter, conceptualised after the 1999 Kargil conflict when the need for a dedicated platform capable of operating in high altitudes was felt. It is the only attack helicopter in the world which can land and take-off at an altitude of 5,000 m (16,400 ft) with a considerable load of weapons and fuel, significantly augmenting the firepower of the IAF and the Army in high-altitude areas. The helicopter has a combat radius of 500 km and can go up to a service ceiling of 21,000 feet, which makes it ideal to operate at high altitude areas of the Siachen glacier.

The LCH "Prachand" is armed with 20 mm nose gun, 70 mm rockets, anti-tank guided missile ‘Dhruvastra’ and air-to-air missile ‘Mistral-2’ of the MBDA which has a maximum interception range of 6.5 km.