India advances light attack helicopter program with large tender

India advances light attack helicopter program with large tender

Thanks to its high-altitude performance, the Light Combat Helicopter – or LCH for short – is an important aviation platform for India’s military. Now, a major acquisition of this helicopter type has moved forward after India’s Ministry of Defence issued a request for proposals.

The RfP was issued to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the designer and manufacturer of the 5.8-ton LCH Prachand. The request asked for 156 helicopters, split into 90 for the Indian Army and 66 for the Indian Air Force.

Release of the RfP was confirmed by HAL in a stock exchange filing on June 17. The deal is expected to be worth more than 450 billion rupees (around US$5.4 billion) once negotiations conclude and a contract is issued.

In response to the news, HAL shares surged 6.5% to hit a record 5,582.80 rupees.

Defense News sought additional information about the tender from HAL, but had received no reply by press time.

K.P Sanjeev Kumar, a former Indian naval aviation test pilot and aviation commentator, told Defense News that this tender “is a significant milestone in India’s journey of making customized helicopters for its armed forces”.

He said the LCH Prachand is “arguably the only attack helicopter that packs a punch all the way from sea level to super high altitude”. It can take off and land at altitudes of 16,400ft (5,000m), thus making it ideal for operations along India’s mountainous borders with China and Pakistan.

Armaments on the LCH include Mistral air-to-air missiles, up to four FZ231 2.75-inch (70mm) rocket pods, a nose-mounted M621 20mm cannon and, in the future, Dhruvastra air-to-ground missiles.

Although the LCH is considered an indigenous design, only a 45% level of local content was attained in 15 limited series production LCHs delivered in 2022-2023. However, HAL’s goal is to reach 55% local content with the 156 series-produced helicopters.

An important reason for the increase in indigenous content is a 2023 agreement with Safran for full technology transfer of the Shakti 1H1 engines that power it.

The LCH’s development has been protracted, its maiden flight occurring way back in 2010. Sanjeev Kumar noted “product improvement is a continuous process,” and that, hopefully, HAL will address legacy issues of other HAL helicopters, such as low time between overhaul of key subassemblies, in the LCH.

Sanjeev Kumar concluded: “So long as attack helicopters remain relevant in the battlespace, the LCH will be a vital weapon in India’s arsenal.” These Prachands will operate alongside 28 AH-64E Apache helicopters procured from Boeing in the U.S.

This tender comes on the heels of an RfP for 97 Light Combat Aircraft Mk 1A aircraft issued to HAL in April. As at March 31, HAL’s order books stood in excess of 940 billion rupees, even before these LCA and LCH orders were lodged.

Gordon Arthur is an Asia correspondent for Defense News. After a 20-year stint working in Hong Kong, he now resides in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries around the Asia-Pacific region.

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