HAL on March 29 made the first flight of its light combat helicopter (LCH) prototype, conducting hover tests for around 15 minutes at Bangalore, India. At the controls were group captain Unni Pillai and group captain Hari Nair. Ground runs began in early February.
The LCH, a two-seat attack helicopter based on elements of the HAL Dhruv utility helicopter, is powered by two HAL/Turbomeca Shakti turboshafts, each rated at 1,200 shp. It has a tandem stepped cockpit and crashworthy undercarriage with a stalky tailwheel.
Defense is to be provided by a Saab Avitronics EW suite. In the nose is a sensor turret that is integrated with a helmet-mounted sight system, with a Nexter THL-20 turret mounting a 20-mm M621 cannon. Stub wings provide carriage for weapons, including a range of light bomb and rocket options. The principal weapon, however, will be the Helina helicopter-launched variant of the DRDO’s Nag anti-tank weapon. The helicopter will be able to carry as many as eight of these IIR-guided missiles. MBDA’s air-to-air missile is also slated for LCH. Elements of the LCH’s weapons suite are the same as those of the armed version of the Dhruv, and are already under test on that vehicle.
Development of the LCH began in 2006, and the helicopter was originally due to fly in March 2009, but there have been snags and weight issues. The latter are particularly serious as the LCH is intended to operate with full payload in the Himalayas. HAL has outlined an iterative weight-reduction program over the first three technology demonstration aircraft to bring the LCH down to an acceptable weight level.
HAL hopes to achieve IOC for the type in December 2011, with full induction being achieved in 2012/13. Current plans envision the Indian Air Force receiving 65, and the Indian Army 114.