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|HAL Light Combat Helicopter Prachand
The Indian Army’s aerial fire power along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China will get an indigenous boost as its first Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) Squadron moves to Missamari in the Eastern sector by October end, according to defence sources. The LCH, India’s first indigenously designed and developed attack helicopter, is also the first dedicated attack helicopter operated by the Army.
“Army Aviation has taken delivery of three LCHs and the fourth LCH is expected by the last week of October after which the 351 Army Aviation Squadron will move to Missamari by month end,” a defence source said. “The fifth helicopter is expected to be delivered by November end.”
The Army raised the 351 AA Squadron on June 01, 2022 in Bengaluru and received the first LCH last week. The Squadron is set to be formally operationalised at Missamari in Assam in early November, the source added. The shortest aerial distance from LAC to Missamari is around 250 km.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) had formally inducted four LCHs into 143 Helicopter Unit ‘Dhanush’ at Jodhpur Air Force Station earlier this week.
The Army LCH will be armed with 20 mm nose gun, 70 mm rockets, ‘Helina’ anti-tank guided missile and a new air-to-air missile unlike the ‘Mistral-2’ from MBDA on the IAF LCH. The Army plans to embed attack helicopters with all pivot formations to provide them with close anti-armour support.
The twin-engine LCH designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is a 5-8 tonne class dedicated combat helicopter conceptualised after the 1999 Kargil conflict. 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 Siachen glacier.
In March 2020 the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which met under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had approved procurement of 15 Limited Series Production (LSP) variants of LCH at ₹3,887 crore along with infrastructure sanctions worth ₹377 crore. Of the 15 helicopters, 10 are for the IAF and five for the Army.
Eventually, the Army is looking for another 95 LCH and the IAF another 65 of them. However, the contract for that is yet to be worked out as the eventual induction is spread over the next 10-15 years, officials said. As reported by The Hindu earlier, the Army eventually plans to deploy 70 LCH for combat role in the mountains.
The Army Aviation has three Brigades at Leh, Missamari and Jodhpur, and operates around 145 indigenous Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH), 75 of which are the Rudra weaponised variants, and around 190 ageing Cheetah, Chetak and Cheetal helicopters. Another 25 ALH Mk-III are on order which will be inducted within two years. The Army will also start receiving the Apache attack helicopters in early 2024, six of which have been contracted under an estimated $800 million deal from the Boeing in February 2020. In addition, the Army is also pushing a case for 11 more Apaches for which negotiations are under way.
The LCH 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 considerable load of weapons and fuel significantly, augmenting the firepower of the Army and the IAF in high altitude areas.
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