Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) Serial Production Cleared

This helicopter is equipped with all-weather combat capability to support the ground forces and would be a potent platform to meet the operational requirements of Indian Air Force & Indian Army

Issue 2 - 2022 By Lt General P.C. Katoch (Retd)Photo(s): By HAL
Indigenously designed, developed and manufactured, LCH is an state-of-the-art modern combat helicopter

On March 30, 2022, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the purchase of 15 light combat helicopters (LCH) for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army (IA) from the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at a cost of 3,887 crore along with Infrastructure sanctions worth 377 crore. A press release from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said:

  • Light Combat Helicopter Limited Series Production (LSP) is an indigenously designed, developed and manufactured state of the art modern combat helicopter containing approximately 45 per cent indigenous content by value which will progressively increase to more than 55 per cent for SP version.
  • This helicopter is equipped with requisite agility, maneuverability, extended range, high altitude performance and aroundthe-clock, all-weather combat capability to perform roles of Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (DEAD), Counter Insurgency (CI) operations, against slow moving aircraft and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), high altitude bunker busting operations, Counter Insurgency operations in jungle and urban environments and support to ground forces and would be a potent platform to meet the operational requirements of Indian Air Force & Indian Army.
  • State-of-the-art technologies and systems compatible with stealth features such as reduced Visual, Aural, Radar and IR signatures and crashworthiness features for better survivability have been integrated in LCH for deployment in combat roles catering to emerging needs for next 3 to 4 decades. Several key aviation technologies like Glass Cockpit and composite airframe structure have been indigenised. The future Series Production version will consist of further modern & indigenous systems.
  • Under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, India is continuously growing in its capability to indigenously design, develop and manufacture advanced cutting edge technologies and systems in the Defence Sector. The manufacturing of LCH by HAL will give a further push to Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative and boost indigenisation of defence production and the defence industry in the country. Production of LCH will reduce import dependence for Combat helicopters in the country. Light Combat Helicopters are already in the import embargo list. With its versatile features built in for combat missions, LCH has export capability.

The need for the LCH was felt during the Kargil Conflict of 1999 which highlighted the void of a suitable light helicopter that could operate in high altitude areas (HA). The LCH is a derivative of the HAL Dhruv helicopter, which was inducted into the Indian Military during the 2000s. By 2010, media reported that the IAF was set to acquire 65 x LCH and the IA 114. But the LCH programme was delayed and series trials could begin only on July 1, 2012 though HAL had expected LCH to receive Final Operational Clearance during 2011.

By mid-2016, certification firing trials had commenced, these included tests of the integration of its mission sensors, such as the electro-optical system, helmet pointing system, and of the various armaments – air-to-air missiles, turret gun and rockets – that the type can deploy. On January 17, 2019, LCH completed weapons trials with successful firing of Mistral-2 air-to-air missile at a flying target. Unlike virtually every other attack helicopter in the market, the LCH’s biggest designed-in capability is high altitude performance, a key requirement from the aircraft users.

In February 2020, HAL had inaugurated the LCH final assembly hangar. Manufacturing and fabrication work was ramped up at HAL’s facility in Bengaluru. HAL chairman R. Madhavan said stated in mid-2020, “That (the order) will come very soon. We have concluded price negotiations. We are now awaiting financial sanction. By the end of this year, we should see the initial order for 15 aircraft. After that we expect orders for more than 150. In fact, assuming we’re receiving the order, we’ve already begun production of five new aircraft immediately. This will allow us to deliver the aircraft earlier than planned, once the order is confirmed.”

With the ability to operate over an altitude 15,000 feet, which is unique in the world, the LSP is a versatile and potent platform for the IAF and the IA. Of the initial 15 x LSP helicopters approved for purchase by the CCS on March 20, 2022, 10 are for the IAF and five for the IA. Apparently, the HAL will be able to supply the 15 x LSP pretty soon since they had ramped up production in 2020. Recent media reports have quoted unnamed officials saying that the HAL expects followup orders as the IAF and IA have a combined projected requirement of 160 x LCHs. These would provide a good punch to the combat capabilities of the IAF and the IA.