Bangalore: More than a decade after India felt the need for modern attack choppers, during the Kargil conflict, the country on Monday flew its first prototype of a home-grown helicopter gunship designed for high-altitude battlefields.
The Kargil battle in 1999-2000 between India and Pakistan was fought in the Himalayan region, the world’s highest mountain range.
The two-seat, narrow-body chopper, called light combat helicopter, or LCH, flew for around 20 minutes.
“The helicopter performed better than we expected,” said Ashok Nayak, chairman, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, or HAL, India’s military plane maker. “We will fly another prototype by August.”
HAL had planned the flight for two years ago, but was bogged by development delays.
The 5.5-tonne LCH, powered by engines made by Turbomeca of France, will be equipped with guns, rockets and missiles for anti-tank and counter-insurgency roles. The LCH has to be test-flown for at least 500 hours before it can be certified and inducted in the Armed Forces. India needs around 100 of these choppers by 2020.
LCH’s maiden flight is an important milestone in India’s aircraft development efforts as it proves a concept and design so far demonstrated only in computer simulation.
Beyond that, the flight is also an important step in India’s thrust on indigenization of weapon systems and reduced arms imports. India imports 70% of its arms requirements, while the government wants to increase local development of arms to 70% in a decade.
“This focus on indigenization, it is a double-edged sword. It takes time to develop your own product, making your Armed Forces vulnerable if there are delays,” said Laxman Kumar Behera, associate fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a think tank in New Delhi. “We should play to our specific strengths and in helicopters, we have been successful.”
HAL has earlier built Dhruv, an advanced light helicopter for use by India’s Armed Forces as well as for export to countries such as Chile.
The Bangalore firm is also developing a 3-tonne light utility helicopter for carrying troops and weapons to high altitude regions, and another chopper capable of carrying up to 10 tonnes.