India to test fly light combat helicopters

India to test fly light combat helicopters

India will shortly test fly the indigenously designed and built Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), which will augment the IAF's fleet of small and highly manoeuvrable rotary flying machines.

A 'baby' of the Bangalore-headquartered defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the first prototype of LCH is expected to take to the skies between December 26 and December 29, a senior HAL official said on Monday.

HAL has already bagged a firm order to deliver 65 LCH to the IAF and 114 to the Army, company sources said.

Unlike HAL’s Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) "Dhruv" which has been described as broad and bloated, the LCH is very, very sleek. The new light chopper is currently undergoing functional tests, and is expected to be ready for ground run by December 24.

"It (LCH) is quite different from ALH in terms of configuration and structure," the official closely associated with the project, said on condition of anonymity.
HAL hopes to obtain certification for LCH in 2012-13, and the delivery of the machines is  expected from 2014-15.

LCH would also have a weaponised version, similar to ALH.

"There will be rocket pods, a machine gun as also an air-to-air missiles in the combat version of LCH. But in the first prototype all these features will not be there," the official said.

HAL has also started design of a light observation helicopter (LOH) which would eventually replace the ageing fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters which have been in service since 1978. "We have got about 600 of them (Cheetah and Chetak) in service now. They are reaching  the end of their technical life as they have flown 60,000 hours or more," he said.

India plans to buy 197 LOH helicopters, for which it has short-listed Eurocopter, Augusta Westland and Rosoboronexport. Sources said India is expected to place the order after finalising one of them by next year-end.

HAL has already secured an order to supply 187 LOH. "So, while India will buy 197, HAL will also make 187," officials said.

Meanwhile, HAL officials said platforms offered by major global manufacturers in response to the company’s request for proposals on finding a foreign partner for its proposed medium lift helicopter project were found to be “not exactly meeting our requirements’.

"We are choosing a platform which will be modified to suit our requirement. All the platforms are not exactly meeting our requirement. So, we will have to call them for discussions, freeze the specifications and then tender it out formally," they said.

LCH’s maiden flight comes at a time when helicopter business is booming for HAL, which has already sold 100 numbers of Dhruv, mostly for armed forces, with further order to deliver another 159, worth Rs 15,000 crore.

HAL is mulling to set up more helicopter divisions. "We will have to create infrastructure for making new helicopters.The present infrastructure is full, to the brim. We may not be able to do more there. We will have to put up new facilities for helicopter manufacturing".

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