Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Light Combat Helicopter to fly soon: Part 2 of a three-part series on India's new thrust in helicopter building

Left and Below: computer images of the final LCH design, produced by HAL's in-house integrated design centre.

Below: a mock-up of the LCH, which was displayed in Aero India 2007. As you can see, it is a lot more clunky and primitive than the final design

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Sept 08
HAL, Bangalore

In the anarchy of the modern battlefield, the attack helicopter is the ultimate predator. Operating from a forward base --- usually a small square of synthetic material tacked down onto a clearing in the fields --- the attack helicopter flies missions against enemy tanks, which are spotted by friendly scout helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Flying barely 20 feet above the ground, the attack helicopters close in with the enemy, often with rifle and machine-gun bullets spattering against their armoured bodies. Then popping up from behind a tree line, they fire missiles and rockets to destroy their targets; meanwhile sophisticated onboard electronics confuse the enemy’s radars for the couple of minutes it takes to finish the job. Then it’s back to the base to refuel and rearm, patch up the bullet holes, and leave for another mission against another target.

This is the perilous, high-tech environment of the attack helicopter, where only the best armed, best protected and most high-tech survive. There are just a handful of successful attack helicopters in the world. That number could rise by early 2009, when Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) test flies the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), its first attempt at designing and building an attack helicopter.

Business Standard had an exclusive, and detailed, first look at the LCH project, which is coming off HAL’s design centre in Bangalore. And despite the long trail of failures marking worldwide attempts to design attack helicopters --- e.g. Boeing-Sikorsky spent US $6.9 billion on the Commanche attack helicopter before the programme was cancelled in 2004 --- HAL is remarkably confident that the LCH will be successful and on time.

The Chief Designer of the LCH programme, B Pandaji Nath Rao, spelt out the milestones: the LCH design was finalised and frozen this March; the first technology demonstrator (TD-1) will 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.

HAL believes that it has overcome the biggest bugbear of new aircraft projects: long development times mean that technologies become obsolescent before the aircraft reaches the users. Mr Rao points out that most of the LCH technologies are already being validated in the new version of the successful Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). Other technologies related to weaponry and sensors are being proven in the armed version of the Dhruv (called the Dhruv-Weapons Systems Integration, or WSI), a prototype of which is already flying. The military has 159 Dhruvs and 76 Dhruv-WSIs on order.

And so the LCH will benefit from the many commonalities between the Dhruv and the LCH. Both are about 5.5 tonnes, which means that the crucial dynamic components --- i.e. the main rotor, tail rotor, and the gearbox --- are similar. But the Dhruv’s greatest gift to the LCH is integration. The Chief Designer explains, “In the Dhruv, we added on systems one by one; but in the LCH, we knew all those systems would be needed, so we were able to integrate them from the beginning. So the LCH is a sleeker, faster, more integrated aircraft.”

But HAL Chairman, Ashok Baweja also points out the LCH’s many new features, which have made engineering a challenge. 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. And the new crash-resistant landing gear allows pilots to survive even when the LCH smacks into the ground at more than 10 metres/second.

The performance of the LCH will have to match up with contemporary light attack helicopters like Eurocopter’s Tiger or China’s ultra-secret Zhisheng-10 (Z-10). But experts say the LCH’s flying performance will be hard to match, designed as it is for India’s high altitudes. It can take off from an altitude of 10,000 feet, operate weapons up to 16,300 feet, and engage targets like UAVs that are flying at altitudes of up to 21,300 feet.


Mr.TaxPayer said...

good one!

Can you provide more details on the stealth characteristics (noise, heat, radar signatures etc)?

Also is there any armaments/missiles that are being specifically developed for this craft? (apart from Helina)

Raghav said...

it seems u can't retract the landing gear in this chopper. it also does not have internal weapons bay.
how is this design stealthy?

Sid said...

Comparing "Commanche" to LCH is not so cool Ajai ji.

Commanche failed because they were taking shortcuts in design and testing process and when forced to complete those testing cycles in given time they canceled the project as it over-shoot their budget.

Be proud but humble.

I love my nation and i am proud to be an Indian. LCH does not need any parallel to feel good about.

Mayuresh Gaikwad said...

I just hope we meet the deadlines this time with no/minimal budget overshooting. I don't want the LCH to be another LCA, God forbid another Arjun.

On a separate note, I think DRDo should hunt for customers for Arjun outside the Indian army. The Indian army clearly does not want it. It will have no objection if we sell it to other countries, hell, even to Afghanistan, where the tanks can be used. The Hamid Karzai govt. is anyways friendly to the Indian govt.

Anonymous said...

@ raghav,
it is stealthy but not fully stealth. complete stealth is a never ending story and it's impossible to have internal bays on a machine of this size. to do what you propose, HAL would have to build a MCH.
will you be ready to wait ?

tin can man said...

nothing in this article that was not previously known about LCH. too much hype, but no delivery mr shukla! please provide more insights into the programme than these broad sweeping observations that everyone has already heard hundred times over.

Anonymous said...

So the final point is the first prototype wont be flying in October 2008 as claimed by Mr. Baweja.

Also u didnt mention about the Medium Lift Helo. Is it that they kept the idea back in cold storage?? Alas how long will I keep seeing the Russkie MH-17's

Anonymous said...

Total dhruv order for armed forces is 159 nos of which 76 nos are WSI varients. It is not 159+76=235.

Broadsword said...

Hi Tin Man,

Thanks for your perceptive observation. Just so that I can cross check my facts, can you plz tell me where the following information has appeared earlier:

(a) The production schedule of TD-1, TD-2 and TD-3, and what purpose each of them is intended to serve.

(b) Details of the crash-resistant undercarriage of the LCH, including its crash limits.

(c) The altitude performance limits of the LCH.

I appreciate the trouble you're taking. Thanks for that.

Warm regards,


Broadsword said...

Dear Mr Sid,

Thanks for your advice: "be proud but humble". Words of true wisdom.

I don't mean to contradict you in any way, but the article I posted didn't compare the Commanche with the LCH in any way. The example of the Commanche was raised --- you'll see if you go back to the article --- only to highlight the difficulty in carrying through an attack helicopter programme.

I wish that I too could love my nation and be a proud Indian like you.



max said...

Ajai, do u have any idea what's the name gonna be? or when are they gonna name it? Like how Dhruv and Tejas got their name from ALH and LCA initially?

And why the delay? I read just 1 week back where they confirmed first flight to happen by this year, now a new story!

I have to say however the final design is really cool and futurustic.

And ajai, what can you say regarding the optical turret not being under the nose? Being under makes it easier to spot targets beneath.

And finally, has integration started already for the TD-1? At what stage is it currently?

Shiv Aroor said...

Ajai: nice piece! did you get to take any shots of whatever's been built of the TD-1 so far? If she's gonna fly by March 2009, must be at a pretty advanced stage of build? Would be great to see what she looks during fabrication. great work on the chopper series.

Anonymous said...

there goes the clown.

tin can man said...

thanks ajai. i knew those things. they're all on the net.

Anonymous said...

is that so tin man ? where exactly ?
post the link.

Anonymous said...

Mr Tim Can Man,
If you know everything, please dont come to this blog.
Nice work Ajai.

Raj said...

Nice Article as usual.

The LCH looks like a simplified LCH.Can it have anything to do with BAE involvement in the project?

Also does anybody have any idea if, Shakti Engine would be improved further? It would be difficult to believe that Shakti engine will remain same till 2017 or so.

Gunit said...

@tin can man:

ur head is as hollow as an empty tin can. Yet u r trying to make it appear full. Sadly you cannot hide the noise an empty vessel produces.

Better try next time.


is the rear axle retractable?

sid said...

Ajai ji,

Please do not take my comments as contempt or anything. I am an avid reader of your blog.

But my point was whenever we draw a parallel with other programs (even if its a one-liner), like Eurofighter/F22 was also started when LCA was started, psychologically we are trying to bank on someone else's success/failure.

If LCH program creates a benchmark (like quick development of IJT) then general public will be more then happy to hear it.


Anonymous said...

empty tin cans make the most noise

Broadsword said...

Hi Shiv,

The LCH TD-1 has barely started being assembled as yet. I was given to understand that there is nothing yet that would be recognisable as an attack helicopters.

Also no name yet. Or if there is, they're keeping it quiet for now.

Raj, the Shakti engine will see only incremental improvements. You may see an increase of some 5% or so because of those improvements, but the basic design and performance will remain the same. As of today, it is one of the most advanced helicopter engines in the world, especially for high altitudes.

Bhavesh said...

Hello Mr.Ajay

I appreciate your work. From those images I have uploaded one in wikipedia LCH article but I have not provided any copyright info. so It may be deleted. so please visit this wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:LCH.gif

and provide your copyright info.

Thanks for good articles...

Ankur said...

ajai: I cannot get enough of the LCH. Your article was like water to parched lips.

On the subject of heat: you mentioned "hot" trials in the mountains. Is the LCH also going to be available for the multiple future battle terrains of the armed forces? i.e. the deserts and lowland jungles? Or is it primarily a direct response to the Kargil affair?

Anonymous said...

Ajai, can you post the mockup image of LCH in Wiki commons. Will Greatly appreciate such an effort.

Anonymous said...

Ankur, the LCH was developed after we were unable to utilize attack helis in Kargil. Also Having seperate helis for different terrain is not worth it. Hence LCH will be able to operate in all terrain.

To Ajai: Will the Navy utilize this in their new amphibious LPD's to provide support during shore landings.

fighterclass said...

To Ajai: Will the Navy utilize this in their new amphibious LPD's to provide support during shore landings.
good point anon, I was thinking of the same. would be a good choice for CAS. much like the way USMC uses its cobras for.

Anonymous said...


I read in another article that the LCH is going to use the body/frame of the Chetak helicopter. Isn't it interesting that they will use the engine and avionics from the Dhruv and put it on a Chetak frame? Also, any details on the LCH's 'heavy' armour?


fighterclass said...

the article you read is a perfect example of DDM.
the journalist got confused between the lancer, which is an armed cheetah (not chetak as you say) modified for CoIN ops and the LCH which is a pure attack helicopter based upon the dhruv's subsystems.

Ankur said...

Anon: thx! :)

Atty said...

Dear Col Ajai,
I think at the potential 'user end' many are wondering whether the LCH will have an armoured fuselage that will be able to withstand a ground MMG/LMG counterattack in a LICO environment. You have not spoken about that in the article.Can you elucidate?

Pritam said...

Good informative artcile Ajaiji.

Can you take some pics of the first LCH....ie is LCH TD-1???


Anonymous said...

atty, yes it will. it will have ability to withstand upto 12.7 mm fire.

Ajai said...

Just to elaborate on the LCH's protection. It can withstand 12.7 mm AP (Armoured Piercing) rounds AT CRITICAL POINTS, i.e. at points where they would have hit the crew. At other points of the cockpit, the round will penetrate, and perhaps exit from the other side.

To armour the entire cockpit would just add on too much weight. Incidentally, the cockpit is one of the most carefully considered parts of the helicopter. I met a Mi-35 pilot, who is on deputation to HAL for the LCH project... just to provide pilot inputs. He told me the cockpit is in its third iteration (or version, as we non-designers would call it). And it says the third iteration is really satisfactory from the viewpoint of a user.

Photos of LCH? Read my article... there is no LCH yet. You would only have something worth photographing by around the end of 2008.

void walker said...

someone above asked whether LCH would have internal weapons bay? and someone actually refuted it!

the truth however is , Yes, the LCH has an internal weapons bay for carrying dumb bombs,mines, Al foil etc.

Anonymous said...

Another Wet dream like Arjunk and LCA lol, I hope this one actually flies. So much for Indegenous push of the 90s, lol.

Anonymous said...

Well, as many have hoped in their replies, I would also like to see the LCH fly. I am certain it would soon given HAL excellent track record of delivering complex flying systems. HAL has also done a wonderful job with the AJT Sitara. I wonder in which attack helicopter category the LCH would fall as the list of such helicopters is quite long, a few of them are Eurocopter Tiger, Augusta Mangusta, Kamov Ka-50, Mil Mi Hind/Havoc, Denel AH-2 Rooivalk, Boeing Apache, Longbow, Bell Cobra etc. I wish it is in the same category as the deadly Apache. A true attack helicopter should be an amalgamation of stealth, firepower, lethality & speed. Talking about stealth, the LCH without a retractable landing gear system would produce significant radar signature and the effort to maximise the airframe’s stealth characteristics would be a total waste.

butterfly valves said...

this is a mean looking helicopter... never seen one like this ever.. anyways.., sorry for dropping by. i was researching about valves and actuators and your blog just swooped down...

thanks anyways

Anonymous said...

Sufficient LCH in numbers will definitely beat the crap out of any Z 10s out there