(photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)
(Top right: A view of the armament boom, flare dispensers and the EW housing on the new weaponised Dhruv)
(Bottom right: the GIAT 20mm cannon turret, and the sensor housing on the nose of the Dhruv. This was initially a fixed gun, before the IAF requested redesign into a turret)
(Bottom left: A long shot of the display-painted WSI Dhruv that will be seen at Aero India 2009)
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Feb 09
Visitors to Aero India 2009, being held in Bangalore from 11th to 15th February 09, who hoped to catch a first-ever glimpse of India’s high-tech Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), will go back disappointed. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has told Business Standard that design glitches --- including extra weight and delays in manufacturing the tooling on which the LCH will be fabricated --- have pushed back the first flight by up to a year.
Some consolation will be afforded to enthusiasts of indigenous production from the first display flights of a black leopard-painted prototype of the armed Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter. Called the Weapons Systems Integrated Dhruv (WSI Dhruv) this is the machine on which the LCH’s armaments and sensors are being perfected, even as designers struggle to pare down the extra 250 kilos that have come up on the LCH.
“An extra 250 kilos may not seem much on a 5.5 ton helicopter, but it really is a serious problem”, explains HAL’s helicopter design chief, N Seshadri. “At altitudes of 6000 metres (almost 20,000 feet), which the LCH must operate at, the air is so thin that it can only carry a weapons payload of about 350-500 kg. If the helicopter ends up 250 kg heavier than planned, its high altitude firepower will be dramatically reduced.”
Being built on the basic design of the Dhruv ALH, the LCH is currently HAL’s most prestigious project. Many of its components, including the engine, crucial moving parts like the rotor, and the instrumentation of the LCH have already been tested on the Dhruv. Armaments and sensors are taking shape on the WSI-Dhruv. With much of this already done, HAL had planned to fly its first LCH prototype by December 08; a second prototype was to be readied in the first half of this year. But that timeline has turned out to be too ambitious.
One reason is that the LCH is technologically far more complex than the Dhruv. The Dhruv is a utility helicopter, designed for simple tasks like reconnaissance, casualty evacuation and for conveying small teams of up to 7 soldiers. In contrast, the LCH is an attack helicopter, a flying weapons platform built purely for combat. It must fly and fight by day and by night, bringing down missile, rocket and cannon fire on dangerous enemy targets like tanks. To avoid detection by radars and by individuals it must fly almost at ground level; its crew needs bulletproofing against ground fire. It must have sophisticated electronics to confuse enemy radars.
The private sector company that has designed the LCH’s fuselage, Plexion Technologies, is working overtime to cut down the extra 250 kg. Meanwhile HAL is trying to convince the air force to accept the first prototype with some extra weight, so that flight tests can begin even as Plexion slims down the LCH.
There are some delays also in selecting the weapons systems that the LCH will carry. The air-to-air missile, which will be bought from abroad, has not been selected. The LCH was to be fitted with the DRDO’s Nag anti-tank missile, but the services want a missile that can hit tanks at 7 kilometers, compared with the 4 km range of the Nag. So while the DRDO works on a longer-range version of the Nag (called the HELINA, or Helicopter-mounted Nag), a foreign missile will have to be bought as an interim solution.
Tomorrow: Aero India spotlight on the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)