|American Bell 360 Invictus helicopter (Left) vs Indian HAL Light Combat Helicopter (Right)|
Washington: The first prototype of the Bell 360 Invictus helicopter, developed under the US military’s FARA [Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft] program, is 90% complete. Bell raced Skorsky’s Raider X prototype in the program.
First introduced in 2019, the Invictus is designed as a conventional helicopter with high speed and relatively low cost. The helicopter, which has a tandem seat structure like the attack helicopters widely used today, has a very innovative design. Although his design appears to have a low radar cross-sectional area, Bell states that this was not the main design priority.
There is no functional engine in the prototype. Still, Bell will soon obtain the T901 engine from General Electric and integrate it into the helicopter. As the development of the T901 engine continues, the engine schedule break will push forward testing of the Invictus prototype. A 3,000 hp T901 is expected. to reach Invictus at a speed of at least 180 knots [330 km/h].
In addition to the T901, the helicopter also has an auxiliary power unit system [APU] manufactured by Pratt & Whitney. A single-engine APU configuration is used in the aircraft.
|Bell 360 Invictus Chopper|
In the images shared by Bell, the Invictus 360 prototype is shown with mock-ups of next-generation weapons. CLT launchers, AGM-114 Hellfire, and AGM-179 JAGM missiles of the XM915 20mm autocannon and a total of 2 launchers with 4 missiles that can be carried in the fuselage took their place on the helicopter.
As part of the FARA program, the US military aims to fill the gap in armed reconnaissance helicopters that was created after the retirement of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters. The US military aims to make its choice by completing tests of the Invictus 360 and Raider X prototypes in 2023. In 2028, it aims to put the first operational-level helicopters into service.
The Indian LCH concept was born in a 2006 initiative to provide an indigenous attack helicopter design to fulfill primary roles in both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army. HAL has already garnered much in the way of experience by designing, developing and producing the “Dhruv” series of multirole helicopters introduced in 2002. Thusly, this knowledge was utilized extensively within the design of the new required attack platform – known under the generic program name of “LCH”. At the end of its developmental and evaluation cycles, the LCH should compare favorably to contemporary attack mounts such as the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra and the Eurocopter Tiger.
The LCH design exhibits a sleek exterior. The weapons specialist and pilot are seated in a stepped tandem arrangement cockpit with the gunner in front and the pilot at the rear. The cockpit offers excellent views from all angles and sports some framing. Ahead of the cockpit is a short nose housing sensitive systems as well as a chin-mounted cannon. The fuselage is thin in the front profile. The engine nacelles are contoured nicely along the sides of the fuselage at amidships and power a low-mounted, four-bladed main rotor mast and four-bladed tail rotor, the latter driven by a shaft running inside the empennage. The tail rotor is set to face off of the starboard side of the aircraft. The empennage is elevated in the design and requires a special rear landing gear leg for support when on the ground. The undercarriage, as a whole, consists of the rear support leg and a pair of main landing gear legs to either side of the forward fuselage. Each leg is heavily strutted for the rigors of daily operation and to absorb a full-impact crash landing. The undercarriage will remain fixed during flight as is not retractable. The empennage also fits a single vertical tail fin and horizontal planes. There are two short wingstubs for the mounting of munitions, external fuel stores and specialized equipment pods as needed.
Power for the LCH airframe is provided by 2 x HAL/Turbomeca Shakti turboshaft engines delivering 1,400 shaft horsepower each. This will allow the LCH a top speed of 170 miles per hour with a cruising speed equal to 160 miles per hour. Range is said to be out to 342 miles and a service ceiling of 21,300 feet is being reported based on the prototypes. Rate-of-climb is estimated to be 2,362 feet per minute. All told, the LCH should be a quick and nimble end-product worthy of the modern battlefield. At any rate, it will provide a major move forward for the Indian defense industry that, for decades, had long relied on outside help to stock its inventories.
|First HAL manufactured Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) in service of the Indian Air Force|
Like other up-and-coming helicopter designs of the modern age, the LCH is said to field stealth features (in the way of composites) that reduce its radar signature against enemy tracking systems. Its cockpit utilizes state of the art systems and functions intended to ease crew workload yet increase mission efficiency. The cockpit will be “all-glass” and wholly digital, dominated by a pair of multi-function displays (MFD) at each cockpit position. Data-sharing will be integral in its design and provide for real-time mission assessments and communications between other allied parties. The helicopter will also integrate a FLIR system, TV as well as a laser range-finder and laser designation system, the latter not requiring a target to be “lazed” by allied infantry. As the helicopter’s role will be low-altitude in nature, strategic armoring of key systems and cockpit will be in order. Helmet mounted sights will provide mission pertinent information to each pilot and aim the chin turret cannon within the limits of its firing and elevation arcs. Defense will be handled by a basic chaff and flare dispensing unit as well as radar and laser warning receivers.
As an attack helicopter, the LCH will field a French-designed 20mm M621 cannon system as standard. This weapon will be installed inside of a French-based Nexter-brand THL-20 series powered turret which will be operated by either crewmember via helmet and overriding hand controls. Primary anti-armor weaponry will be the Helina air-to-surface, anti-tank, guided missile. Additionally, the LCH will be cleared to field mission-specific homing missiles such as an anti-radiation type for destroying enemy radar installations. Other ordnance packages will see the fitting of multi-shot rocket launcher pods and even conventional drop bombs and cluster bombs. All external ordnance will be mounted across four hardpoints under each wingstub installation (two hardpoints to a wing).
It was expected that the LCH would join the ranks of the Indian Air Force during 2012 but delays in the program ensured it would be later. The Indian Air Force has 65 LCH on order with the Army scheduled to receive 114 of the type. Sri Lanka has ordered 20 as the first foreign operator.
At the start of 2015, there are 65 LCHs on order for the Indian Air Force and 114 for Indian Army Aviation.