Bangalore: With the Indian indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv putting up a sterling display at the ongoing Aero India air show at Yelahanka Airforce Base in Bangalore, many eyes are now starting to look at the ALH's more warlike cousin, the Light Combat Helicopter, which is at present just a mock-up in the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) pavilion at the show.
The Indian Army needs a helicopter gunship capable of operating at high–altitude. During the Kargil conflict, the Russian M–17 proved to be a sitting duck for intruders armed with Stinger missiles. New generation gunships, on the other hand can hunt down the enemy where fixed-wing aircraft find it difficult to operate.
Now HAL is poised to fill this gap. The Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) is designed to carry a 1,500 kilo weapon load even at very high altitudes. Armed with cluster bombs and air-to-surface missiles, one of the two-man crew will be solely in charge of targeting and firing the weaponry. It has a narrow airframe for stealth and will complement the IAF's Russian-made Mi–35 gunship, which cannot operate at altitudes.
A mean looking machine, the LCH looks like any advanced chopper gunship. The project evolved after the the Mi-25 and Mi-35 gunships of the IAF were unable to operate effectively at altitudes during the 1999 Kargil war. Full mock-up notwithstanding the chopper is far from complete and is expected to be inducted into the armed forces only in 2010.
The LCH weighs 5. 5 tonnes, with a narrow fuselage accommodating a pilot and a gunner/co-pilot in tandem, in an armoured cockpit. It incorporates a number of stealth features such as low visual signature, a low radar cross section and a low IR signature. It has crash-resistant landing gear for better survivability. The Dhruv's current external structure, comprising 67 per cent composites, has been significantly improved. HAL hopes to equip the IAF with about 70 gunships starting 2010.
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