Light Utility Helicopter [LUH]
The Light Utility Helicopter [LUH] which is indigenously developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will replace the Fleet of Chetak - Cheetah helicopters which have been the mainstay for the Indian Armed forces for almost five decades. LUH is a new generation helicopter in the 3-Ton class incorporating the state-of-the-art technology features which will meet the emerging needs in this class of helicopters in the coming decades. This new generation helicopter has a glass cockpit, multifunction display, auto-pilot, helmet mounted display system and has the capability to manoeuvre through narrow valleys, mountains and high altitude areas, providing effective support to ground operations.
With regard to indigenous development of military hardware, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has shown significant capability towards the successful design and development of the ALH (Dhruv). Presently, IAF has Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) which is an entirely new design. The Design and Development of LCH and LUH along with the already supplied Chetak, Cheetah, Cheetal and ALH placed HAL as a total Indigenous Solution Provider in the Light helicopter category, to the Indian Defence Forces.
Light Utilty Helicopter (LUH) indigenously built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is 3-ton class helicopter with 4 Bladed Composite Main Rotor System, Main Rotor Blade Folding, 4 Bladed Tail Rotor System, Single Engine with dual channel automatic fuel control (FADEC) with additional backup control, Night Flying Capability, Glass Cockpit with Smart Cockpit Display Systems (SCDS), Skid Landing Gear, Fuselage to accommodate 2 pilots in side by side configuration and 6 passengers and Crashworthy Crew Seats. HAL indigenously designed two most critical systems – rotors and transmission, which are different from that of Advanced Light Helicopter and Light Combat Helicopter. The rotors had two-segment blade concept, being tried out for the first time in India. It is powered by a single turbo shaft engine Ardiden 1U from Safran Helicopter Engine (SHE), France
The Indian Army and Indian Air Force together operate about 400 Cheetah (France Design Alouette III helicopter) and Chetak (France Design LAMA helicopter ) helicopters supplied by HAL ( Licence produced at HAL, Bengaluru) starting from 1960s. These helicopter fleet have served the country for nearly four decades, need to be replaced in a phased manner with a more efficient and state-of- the- art technology based helicopter.
Against this backdrop, the Indian Army and Indian Air Force finalised the requirement of a Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopter (to replace Cheetah and Chetak helicopter). Eurocopter came close to winning the LUH tender, but New Delhi cancelled the program in December 2008 after Bell and several others complained that the EADS subsidiary had been unfairly favored in the selection process. India's defence minister subsequently exonerated the company of any wrong doing. The delays that resulted from the cancellation of the original tender led to the defence ministry promising to put the procurement on a fast track.
GOI issued a new GSQR in July 2008. The total projected quantity required by Armed Forces was 384 helicopters, of which, 197 helicopters are earmarked for direct global purchase and remaining 187 helicopters are classified under make category, to be indigenously manufactured by HAL based on Design and Development of Light Utility Helicopter (LUH). The RFP was sent to AgustaWestland, Bell Helicopter, Eurocopter, Kamov and Sikorsky, who will bid to replace the 1970s-vintage Hindustan Aeronautics Chetak and Cheetah helicopters.
Bell Helicopter pulled out of the Indian military market, after choosing not to take part in the country's revived light utility helicopter competition. The company, which had planned to offer a development of its Bell 407 for the requirement, says New Delhi's stringent 50% offset rules meant it was not possible to submit a bid for the $750 million contract. "We have a very good product in the 407, but it was simply not feasible to take part given the high offset requirements," says a Bell source. "We will continue to look for opportunities in the Indian military market. The focus for now, however, is on the civil helicopter sector."
The GOI accorded approval to HAL, in February 2009 to go-ahead with design and development of Light Utility Helicopter. The time given to HAL was 6 years, including a buffer of one year to accommodate delays in Design and Development. It was originally expected to take to the air during 2015 but delays in the program have seen mounting delays in project goals. The first flight happened on 6 September 2016. The Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) is a project which had progressed well by 2013 and IAF was looking forward to induct these helicopters by 2020. Subsequently, the second prototype (PT-2) had its maiden flight on May 22, 2017 and third prototype (PT-3) took to the skies on December 14, 2018. The three prototype helicopters had been cleared for flights and important tests have been completed.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) set up a manufacturing facility and take up Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO) activities for Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and other Rotary Wing Platforms near Tumkur, Karnataka. The foundation stone was laid on 3rd January 2016. HAL plans to manufacture LUH in the 3 tonne weight class category from its new helicopter factory near Tumkur, Karnataka. The Tumkur plant can manufacture up to 60 helicopters per year. Including current capacity, it can do up to 90 chopper per year if the requirement is there and orders are placed, Production of Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) is proposed to be undertaken at the existing facilities at Helicopter Complex, Bengaluru. Overhaul of Advance Light Helicopter (ALH), Cheetah and Chetak Helicopters is undertaken at HAL's Bengaluru and Barrackpore.
The production of ALH in 5.5 tonne weight class category, planned manufacture of LUH in the 3 tonne weight class category and future plans of developing 10 tonne class category helicopter by HAL will boost HAL's Aviation capability. HAL manufacturers ALH Dhruv and Cheetal, the re-engined variant of Cheetah Helicopter for Indian Defence Forces in its Bengaluru Division. Repair & Overhaul of ALH, Cheetah Chetak, Lancer Helicopters is undertaken at HAL's Bengaluru & Barrackpore facilities.
Chetak is an old aircraft which has been found to be an ideal platform for ab-initio helicopter Pilot training. While new procurements are an on-going process, it has been the endeavour of the IAF to make optimum use of available resources. Chetak helicopter is still very much in operational service in frontline units and provides the lifelines to a number of personnel in some extremely harsh terrain and weather environments. The IAF is also in the process of replacing its Chetak helicopter fleet with the Light Utility Helicopters (LUH). The new helicopters, when indicated would be state-of-the-art and simple enough flying machines that would also be used to impact quality training at helicopter FTEs.
There is a huge demand for helicopters in the armed forces, given that the existing Cheetah/Chetak fleet has been in service for over four decades and is getting increasingly difficult to maintain as global manufacturers have stopped manufacturing spare parts, he said. Light choppers are used extensively by the Army and Air Force to supply and maintain troops in high altitude locations including the Siachen glacier where they are a lifeline for soldiers deployed at posts in excess of 18,000 feet. They carry out a variety of missions including casualty evacuation, dropping medical supplies, transporting essential equipment and facilitating quick movement at the frontier.
A major announcement during DefExpo 2020 was the issuing of Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) certificate of Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) was issued to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The single-engine Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) got wings at Defexpo-2020 on 09 February 2020 after Chairman Defence Research and Development Organisation’s initial operational clearance to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for its production. “Till now three prototypes have been built and cumulatively comp leted over 550 flights under various terrains and climatic conditions like cold and hot weather, at sea-level and high altitude complying with stringent certification and user requirements,” HAL said. The helicopter’s endurance and reliability were established during the hot weather and high-altitude trials wherein LUH was ferried from Bengaluru, covering over 7000 km and continuously flying for 17 days without any abnormality.
The Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) completed the high altitude trials in the Himalayas in september 2020. During these 10-day extensive trials, the helicopter underwent several tests under extreme weather conditions. Arup Chatterjee, Director (Engineering, Research & Development), HAL, in an interview told Onmanorama, that LUH demonstrated the required performances and payload capabilities, and even exceeded the user expectations operating under stringent environment. “LUH’s performance during the recent trials has been exceptional. Due to aerodynamic improvements implemented, the performance was far better when compared to last year’s trials at Leh”.
High altitude environment coupled with hot weather (around 26 to 28 deg C) between JulySept in Himalayas are considered stringent for the performance of helicopters. The challenges at such high altitudes are in terms of temperature, pressure, wind speeds and visibility – all of which can vary anytime impacting the performance of the helicopter. The maximum payload capability (the maximum useful load that can be carried by the helicopter at highest altitudes) is a critical parameter and every kilogram matters. The helicopter needs to have adequate engine power and rotor capability to overcome these challenges and still deliver the payload.
LUH would initially be produced in limited numbers before a larger order is placed for the Army and Air Force. With both satisfied with trial performances, by late 2020 the defence ministry was processing the first order for 12 choppers, which would be followed by a larger batches to achieve a total of 187 LUHs in service. “The acceptance of necessity for the first 12 helicopters is being approved. Once the order is placed, we will be in the position to deliver all of them within 28 months as the production facilities are already in place,” R Madhavan, the chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which has designed and developed the chopper, told The Economic Times 13 November 2020.
The Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) of the HAL on Friday received the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) for the Indian Army from the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification during the ongoing Aero India 05 February 2021. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) Chairman and Managing Director R. Madhavan said that thrust is being given by the HAL for indigenous research and development programmes towards self-reliance and enhancing operational effectiveness of the armed forces. HAL Director (Engineering and R&D) Arup Chatterjee said that the performance of the basic helicopter in all terrains and under all weather conditions is satisfactory.
The Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) are likely to be cheaper than foreign ones and is also likely to beat the IndoRussian venture for Ka 226 helicopters on pricing as well. While the commercial bids for the Ka 226 had yet to be opened by end 2020 and issues around indigenisation levels were being discussed, the plan to manufacture at least 200 of the choppers in India was expected to cost under $2 billion. While the Indo-Russian joint venture is also progressing, the indigenous LUH could end up in active service earlier if approvals are given for manufacturing. The Indian chopper is also expected to cost less as no transfer of technology costs are involved and it would have a very high indigenous content as most parts will be sourced from domestic companies. HAL has also been scaling up its production infrastructure with a new plant in Tumkur that has significantly enhanced capacity.