Choppers From HAL of Fame

Growing portfolio of indigenously-developed helicopters in various versions bodes well for Indian armed forces

Atul Chandra

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is emerging as one of the Asian leaders in rotorcraft development with a growing portfolio of helicopters. The most recent success is the induction of the first squadron of indigenously designed and developed Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) into the IAF. The LCH joins its stablemates, the Dhruv MkIII and Dhruv Weapon System Integrated Rudra. While the former is a utility helicopter, the latter is an armed version of the same helicopter. The HAL has also completed development of the indigenous Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), which is a single-engine helicopter designed to replace the iconic Cheetah/Chetak helicopters operating with the Indian armed forces.



The HAL produced its 300th Dhruv helicopter in September 2020 and company officials are confident that taking all current and future orders into account, the production of Dhruv helicopters will touch the 500 mark. The HAL is shortly expected to complete an order for the delivery of 72 helicopters for the Indian armed forces and Indian Coast Guard (ICG). The orders are for delivery of 40 Dhruv MkIII helicopters for the Indian Army, 16 Dhruv MkIII helicopters for the ICG and 16 Dhruv MkIII helicopters for the Indian Navy.

The army order is split into 22 Dhruv Mark III utility helicopters and 18 Rudra armed helicopters. The HAL had completed production of the 22 utility helicopters ordered by the army, ahead of the contracted delivery schedule. Company officials say they expect additional orders as the performance of this helicopter has been very well appreciated by the Indian armed forces. The ICG could have a requirement for an additional nine helicopters while the navy would also be expected to place additional orders. The army and the air force are also expected to have a requirement for a combined total of approximately 45 Dhruv helicopters.

The HAL has also been looking to offer mission specific enhancements such as fitment of an integrated Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) on the Dhruv MkIII. It successfully demonstrated the deck-based operations capability of a Dhruv MkIII integrated with a MICU. This was demonstrated on board two ALH MK III of the Indian Navy deployed at INS Hansa, Goa, during May-June 2021. The HAL also successfully demonstrated the Dhruv Mk III MR’s deck-operations capabilities that include landing on deck, folding of blades and storing the helicopter inside the onboard hangar in April 2021. The HAL’s upgraded Dhruv Civil variant is also ready for production and this will help meet future civilian requirements for the Dhruv. This helicopter will have a modern glass cockpit and be powered by Safran Helicopter Engines TM 333 2B2.

The HAL began design and development of an indigenous helicopter in 1984 and the first prototype of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) was flown in 1992. Initial variants of the light 5.5 tonne class, multi-role, multi-mission helicopter were powered by two Turbomeca TM 333 2B2 engines. But Dhruv MkIII and MkIV variants feature the more powerful Safran Aircraft Engines, Ardiden 1H1 Shakti turboshaft engines.


Light Utility Helicopter

The new indigenous single-engine helicopter in the three-tonne category is the LUH and eventual orders could well be double of the 187 now planned for. The army is to receive 126 and the air force 61. The Ka-226T programme was to have received orders for 197 helicopters and with this unlikely to take off, these orders will also now come to the LUH programme. The HAL has already received a letter of intent (LoI) for 12 helicopters and production activities are under way.

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) led by defence minister Rajnath Singh approved the manufacture of 12 LUH in November 2021. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone for the greenfield helicopter manufacturing facility in January 2016. The greenfield helicopter factory of the HAL at Tumakuru is in place with stage 1 & stage 2 infrastructure facilities at an investment of Rs 470 crore by the company to take up the manufacture of the LUH and other future platforms with an initial capacity of 30 helicopters per annum.

The Indian armed forces are slated to procure at least 187 LUHs out of which 126 will be for the Indian Army and 61 for the IAF. The LUH will finally replace the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters (SA315B Alouette II/SA316 Alouette III built under licence by the HAL) operated by the Indian armed forces. Initial operational clearance for the LUH IAF version was given on 7 February 2020 and for the Indian Army version on 5 February 2021. The LUH is a single engine, three tonne weight class helicopter equipped with a glass cockpit with multi-function displays. The helicopter is capable of flying at 220kmph, service ceiling of 6.5 km and a range of 350 kms with a 500 kg payload. Three flying prototypes have been built and were extensively flight-tested over all types of terrain and climatic conditions.


Light Combat Helicopter

The twin-engine 5.8 tonne LCH was designed and developed by the HAL’s Rotary Wing Research & Design Centre (RWRDC) to meet the Indian armed force’s specific requirement for an attack helicopter with high-altitude warfare capability, the need for which emerged following the 1999 Kargil War. The LCH will be able to manoeuvre through narrow valleys, mountains and high altitude areas, offering effective support to ground troops with its turret mounted gun, unguided rockets and air to ground missiles.

According to Wg Cdr (retd) Unni Pillai, the HAL’s Chief Test Pilot (Rotary Wing), the LCH’s ability to carry its full weapons load at 14,000 ft is unmatched by any other helicopter anywhere in the world. He also said it would excel in its role as an attack helicopter because of its mix of weapons and ability to provide a steady shooting platform. During trials performed by the HAL, the LCH became the first attack helicopter to land at forward bases in Siachen, which are situated 4,700m above sea level while carrying a payload of 500 kg. The HAL also claims a range of 550km for the LCH and a service ceiling of 6.5km. The LCH will be utilised for roles such as Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (DEAD), destruction of 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 Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).


Multi Role Helicopter

The development of the upcoming Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH), which will be a platform in the 13-tonne class, will test the mettle of the HAL’s designers. The IMRH is being designed as a replacement for the IAF’s Mi-17 fleet. The proposed IMRH, depending on its configuration will be able to carry 24 or 36 troops. The naval variant of the IMRH is christened the Deck Based Multi Role Helicopter (DBMRH) and will allow the development of an indigenously designed Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter.

The preliminary design phase is nearing completion and the HAL has also completed Phase 1 of wind tunnel testing of the IMRH. The IMRH is to be equipped with a smart cockpit, composite and modular airframe, crashworthy tricycle landing gear, 4-axis automatic flight control system, state-of-the-art mission systems and advanced avionic systems. It will have a service ceiling of 6.5km, a payload of four tonne and an endurance of three hours. The IMRH will be able to attain a maximum cruise speed of 270 kmph.


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