India’s first attack copter takes flight

India's first indigenous attack helicopter took to the skies on Sunday morning, marking the country's entry into a league of select nations that can design and manufacture the complex rotary wing attack aircraft. The maiden flight of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) was kept a low-key affair after Defence Minister A K Antony cancelled his visit in the wake of Saturday's air crash at Mangalore.

The LCH, which has been developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at a cost of Rs 376 crore, will now go through a series of rigorous tests and evaluations over the next few years before its planned induction into the Army and Air Force by 2014-15.

The twin engined LCH has been derived from the in-service Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) with the Air Force placing orders for 65 choppers and the Army planning to induct 114 over the coming years. The LCH took its first flight 21 years after a light attack helicopter was conceptualised by HAL based in the IAF requirement in 1989. However, the LCH programme was given clearance by the government only in October 2006.

The LCH has been designed to meet multiple roles in the two forces, ranging from air-to-air operations to surveillance and ground attack. One of its primary roles will be air defence and the chopper will be employed against enemy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and helicopters. It will be used in anti-tank operations and to destroy enemy camps and other high value assets, like enemy air defences, on the ground.

Interestingly, while the government is of the opinion that air power should not be used in counter insurgency operations, the helicopter has also been designed for 'offensive employment in urban warfare, counter surface force operations and counter insurgency operations'.

The 5.8-ton helicopter is India's first indigenous attack chopper but a bulk of its weapon package as well as the engines will be sourced from foreign companies. The chopper will be powered by the Shakti engine that has been developed with the help of French company Turbomeca. The vital air-to-air missiles will also be of French origin with the Mistral ATAM missile being manufactured by MBDA likely to be ordered. The chopper is set to be armed with the Helina anti tank missile that is being developed by DRDO, but the chopper may have to be fitted with a longer range missile as per the requirements of the Armed Forces.

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