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Light Combat Helicopter (LCH)

The Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) is being developed by HAL to cater to the requirements of the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army for a Combat Helicopter. It is not a replacement for the ageing fleets of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters as LCH is a 5.5 Ton class twin engine armed helicopter whereas Cheetah and Chetak are sub 3 ton single engine unarmed utility helicopters.

Previously known as the LAH (Light attack helicopter), and not to be confused with the Lancer LAH (Light attack Helicopter), which is a derivative of the Cheetah helicopter, HAL's recently rechristened Light Combat Helicopter (LCH ) is a dedicated combat and gunship variant of the existing Advanced Light Helicopter(Dhruv/ALH), being developed to a draft IAF and IA requirement. The LCH belongs to the 5.5 ton class, with a narrow fuselage accommodating a pilot and a gunner/co-pilot in tandem configuartion. The LCH will feature a full glass cockpit for both the pilot and gunner, as well as eye level displays.

The Light Combat Helicopter is powered by engines made by Turbomeca of France, and fitted with anti-tank missiles, air-to-air missiles and electronic warfare equipment, will perform anti-tank and counter insurgency roles, as well as scout duites, escort to heliborne operations and support for combat SAR operations. Armament includes a chin mounted twin barrel 20 mm cannon, rockets, air to surface and air to air missiles.

The LCH will have a glass cockpit with multifunction displays, a target acquisition and designation system with FLIR, Laser rangefinder and laser designator. Weapons will be aimed with a helmet mounted sight and there will be an electronic warfare suite with radar warning receiver, laser warning receiver and a missile approach warning system.

Aero India 2003 revealed a full scale mock up of India's new Light Combat Helicopter from HAL. At that time it was expected to be operational within four years. The IAF offered Rs. 300 crores to fund in part the LCH project, and according to HAL Chairman N.R. Mohanty, the helicopter will make its maiden flight in 2005. The LCH proposal was at an advanced stage, and would need 25 months to fly from date of project launch and another two years for weaponisation.

In 2006 it was announced that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) planned to build a Light Combat Helicopter. The Government has accorded sanction in October 2006 for the design and development of Light Combat Helicopter to meet the need of combat helicopter of Indian Air Force (IAF). HAL has undertaken the design and development program of the Project. The Initial Operational Clearance for service deployment by IAF was planned by November 2010. The Ministry of Defence had sanctioned $24 million in October 2006 for HAL to make 2 LCH prototypes by 2008. HAL announced plans at Aero India 2007 to make a Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) derivative of the Advanced Light helicopter (ALH) to enter service by 2012.

The Light Combat Helicopter proposal sponsored by the IAF may face rough weather in its weapon fit, if the Army is not taken on board, now that it has issued its new Doctrine and attack helicopters form a major feature. Rumors of Israeli participation in the project have proven to be unsubstantiated.

Though the LCH is derived from the 'Dhruv' and will carry the same weapons package being qualified on board the armed 'Dhruv' (that have been ordered by the Army for its projected Combat Aviation Brigade), the IAF had specified a top speed 25kph higher. The two pilots in the LCH sit one behind the other, compared to side-by-side in the Dhruv. So all the flight controls, the hydraulics and the fuel system had to be redesigned for the sleeker, heavily armoured LCH. The LCH's many stealth features also necessitated redesigning the fuselage.

As of 2008 HAL was due to roll out the first of three LCH prototypes early in 2009, with initial operational clearance being granted by March 2010, and full certification of airworthiness being granted by January 2011, 25 months after the LCH's first flight. The LCH design was finalised and frozen in March 2008, at which time the first technology demonstrator (TD-1) was to fly by March 2009, testing the LCH's flying systems; by July 2009, the second technology demonstrator (TD-2) will fly, fitted with all the weapons and electronic sensors. By the end of 2009, the Indian Air Force (IAF), the primary users of the LCH, will be conducting flight tests on the TD-3.

In February 2009 Hindustan Aeronautics confirmed that it planned to carry out the first flight of its Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) in mid-August, a six-month delay from the original schedule.

The indigenously designed and developed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), powered by Shakti engines, undertook its inaugural flight on 29 March 2010. It was laced with Forward Looking Infra Red Imaging Technology, Laser Range Finder facilities for target acquisition under all-weather conditions and data link for network centric operations. The 5.5 ton capacity helicopter was due to get its Initial Operational Clearance in December 2011.

As of March 2015, one of the LCH prototypes needed to be subjected to field trials in high altitude and in cold weather. TD-2 prototype had successfully passed the cold weather trials at High altitude. TD-3 and TD-4 prototypes would be utilized for other flight test requirements. The production plan of LCHs has been made from 2017-18 onwards subject to firm order from IAF for limited series production.

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