Boots on the Ground

Prachand will support ground troops, giving a boost to army’s operational capability

Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)

The induction of the Prachand Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), a dedicated attack helicopter capable of operating at high altitudes into the Army Aviation Corps last year, has ushered in a transformational change in the army’s operational capability in war-fighting at high altitudes.

The lack of this capability has been the bane of the Indian military for a long time and its disastrous effects were felt during the 1999 Kargil War, which glaringly revealed that the Indian military lacked a suitable attack helicopter capable of operating unrestricted in high-altitude terrain. The Russian-origin Mi-25/Mi-35 attack helicopters held by the Indian Air Force (IAF) were not capable of operating in such a terrain and environment. An attempt was made to overcome this critical operational shortfall by employing the Mi-17 transport helicopters suitably modified to carry guns, rockets and gun pods at those altitudes. However, these helicopters were extremely vulnerable to handheld surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) due to their large size and restricted manoeuvrability, and when one of these Mi-17s was shot down within two days of their employment the entire gambit of employing them in an armed role as a gunship was abandoned.

The Indian Army (IA) felt greatly handicapped during the Kargil conflict due to the lack of intimate support for ground troops from this critical and offensive weapon platform, the attack helicopter. This aspect was also amply dwelt on and highlighted in the Kargil Review Committee Report. This was the true impetus and trigger for the development of a multi-role combat helicopter capable of operating at extremely high altitudes. It was with this background that the government of the day approved the development of a dedicated attack helicopter capable of operating at extremely high altitudes, by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in 2006, which was aptly named the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). In October 2022, in a formal ceremony, the LCH was renamed Prachand, meaning the strong, powerful and fierce.

Boots on the Ground

In the last two years, five LCH of the limited series production (LSP) have been inducted into the Army Aviation Corps while 10 have gone to the IAF. In a major development, based on the army and IAF’s projected requirements of additional LCHs to cater for high altitude deployments along the Line of Control (LoC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC), the ministry of defence (MoD) recently gave its preliminary approval for the acquisition of additional 156 Prachands; 90 for the IA and 66 for the IAF. This will no doubt greatly enhance the combat capability of the IA, especially in high-altitude warfare, and fill a critical void in its arsenal in the coming years. Along with this, the army is eagerly awaiting the induction of six Apache 64E Guardian attack helicopters into its fold beginning in February 2024, further adding to the lethality of its combat potential. Earlier, 22 Apache 64E Guardian attack helicopters had already been inducted into the IAF and would be available to the army for the operations of its Strike Corps in deserts and plains.


Design & Development

The Prachand has been specifically designed and developed by HAL in conjunction with the armed forces to undertake combat operations at extremely high altitudes like in Siachen and Eastern Ladakh, in order to fill a critical gap in the military’s operational capability. The first maiden flight of the prototype LCH took place in March 2010. Thereafter the LCH went through an extensive flight testing programme involving a total of four prototypes, during which it proved its high-altitude operating credentials by landing on helipads on the Siachen Glacier as well as numerous other high-altitude helipads. The flight testing also included the integration of mission sensors and various armaments.

Finally, after innumerable delays HAL declared the LCH ready for production in February 2020 and the testing of the LCH under LSP began. In March 2022 the government approved the induction of 15 LCH under the LSP, five for the army and 10 for the IAF. Since then, LCH approved under the LSP have been handed over to the IAF and IA in the proportion as stated above. The government’s approval for another 156 Prachand LCH will give a real boost to the Indian military’s war-fighting capability at high altitudes and will be a game changer in future conflicts. What is of significance is that the Prachand LCH is being developed with the active participation of private industry. As per reports, more than 250 vendors are involved in the manufacturing of components, assemblies, tools and test equipment and preparation of technical documentation—an apt example of public and private sector partnership with the thrust on indigenisation.


Main Features

The Prachand LCH is a multirole combat helicopter with the unique and distinct capability to operate at high altitudes—an advantage over other attack helicopters in the world today. The other two attack helicopters in this category with the stated capability to operate at high altitudes are the Chinese Z-10 and the Turkish T-129 ATAK.

However, even though their capability of operating in the mountains is confirmed, their claims of operating at extremely high altitudes is suspect, given the status of their underpowered engines—as per reports efforts are on by both countries to produce more powerful engines for these helicopters.

The Prachand LCH is a derivative of the weaponised version of the HAL-manufactured Dhruv helicopter Rudra, which is already operational and in service with the army and IAF. While the Rudra is an armed helicopter, the Prachand LCH is a dedicated attack helicopter, capable of operating at high altitudes. The LCH has a maximum weight of 5.8 tonnes and service ceiling of 6,500 metres (21,300 feet). The design features a narrow fuselage with stealth profiling and armour protection and the helicopter is equipped to conduct day/night combat operations at high altitudes. The LCH has a two-crew tandem cockpit and is equipped with a helmet-mounted targeting system, electronic warfare systems and advanced weapon systems.

Power Plant: The LCH is powered by two HAL-Turbomeca Shakti 1H1 turbo shaft engines (1430 shaft horsepower each) derived from the Safran’s Ardiden turboshaft engine, driving a four blade main rotor and four blade tail rotor. The same engines are also fitted on the Dhruv and Rudra and therefore have been amply tested for their performance in high-altitude operations. The Shakti engine is being jointly developed by French Turbomeca and HAL.

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