Rajat Sharma

Made in India light combat helicopter: Pride of India

AKB30 The world’s most advanced high-altitude light combat helicopter ‘Prachanda’ was inducted into the Indian Air Force on Monday, with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh himself flying a sortie at Jodhpur air base. The indigenously-built ‘Prachanda’ will enhance the capability of our air force, particularly at high altitudes.

Developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, the 5.8-tonne helicopter can fire air-to-air missiles. It is also equipped with 20 mm turret guns, rocket systems and other weapons. Even the US, Russia and China do not have such advanced light combat helicopters that can operate at high altitudes.

The light combat helicopter has been developed mainly for mountain warfare. The fleet comprising four helicopters was inducted into the IAF at a ceremony at Jodhpur Air Force Station. Chief of Defence Staff Gen Anil Chauhan and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari were also present. The gunship chopper is capable of operating both during day and night. It is capable of targeting enemy infantry, tanks, drones, bunkers and other assets in high-altitude areas.

The need for a high-altitude combat helicopter was felt during the 1999 Kargil War. By middle of 2010, the prototype of light combat helicopter completed a major flight test and was deemed to have fulfilled all desired parameters. The new helicopters were given a traditional water-canon salute after a multi-religious prayer ceremony was held. From the sky, three Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets gave a salute to the Light Combat Helicopters standing at the air base.

In March this year, the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the purchase of 15 indigenously developed Limited Series Production Light Combat Helicopters at a cost of Rs 3,887 crore. Ten helicopters will be for Indian Air Force, and five helicopters will be for the Indian Army. ‘Prachanda’ light combat helicopter has similarities with ‘Dhruv’, the Advanced Light Helicopter.

‘Prachanda’ chopper has several stealth features, armoured-protection systems, night attack capability and crash-worthy landing gear. It can be used in combat search and rescue (CSAR) operations, destruction of enemy air defence (DEAD) and counter-insurgency operations. It can be deployed in high-altitude bunker-busting operations, counter-insurgency operations in forest and urban environments, apart from playing a supporting role for ground forces. It can also be used against slow-moving aircraft and remotely piloted aircraft of enemies. It will act as a potent platform to meet the operational requirements of both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army.

It has state-of-the-art technologies and systems that are compatible with stealth features like reduced visual, aural, radar and IR signatures and crash-worthiness feature for better survivability. The future series-production version will have more modern and indigenous systems, sources said.

‘Prachanda’ helicopter has already been tested under stringent operating conditions including at sea level, in desert regions and in Siachen area. The Indian Army has a plan to acquire 95 light combat helicopters for doing combat role in mountainous areas.

Addressing the induction ceremony, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh described this as “a momentous occasion” for India’s defence production. “I am confident that the overall capability of Indian Air Force will further enhance following induction of light combat helicopters….We have been focusing on boosting India’s defence production after certain developments…India’s security is our foremost priority and it shall remain so… ‘Prachanda’ helicopter is a shining example of the success of Modi government’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (Self-reliant India) mission.”

Already, the Centre has given order to manufacture Tejas light helicopters indigenously, at HAL. Dhruv and Rudra helicopters have also been developed indigenously. Brahmos missiles, Pinaka rocket system and indigenous guns, apart from advanced towed artillery gun systems have been developed in India and inducted in our armed forces. Last month, Prime Minister Modi had handed over India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant to our Navy.

Rajnath Singh said, “Prachand helicopters will not only guard our frontiers. India will earn foreign exchange by selling advanced light helicopters to other countries.” Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said, the capabilities of ‘Prachanda’ helicopter are on a par with helicopters of its class globally.

Interestingly, ‘Prachanda’ light combat helicopters have already been deployed near the Line of Actual Control for the last two years. They had been making sorties. Monday’s induction was a formality. In 2020, when Chinese army tried to show off its might by flying Z-10 light combat helicopters near LAC, India deployed two light combat helicopters which flew sorties close to the LAC, in reply. The Chinese air force then stopped flying its choppers.

The IAF pilots who flew sorties near LAC were present at the induction ceremony on Monday. They said, neither China nor Pakistan has light attack helicopters that can fly at high altitudes. Their choppers, the pilots said, can only fly up to 12,000 feet, but ‘Prachanda’ can easily fly up to a height of 21,000 feet.

During the 1999 Kargil War, the Indian Army and IAF had helicopters made in Russia and France, which were incapable of flying sorties in Kargil heights. It was then felt that a light combat helicopter was needed that could fly at least at an altitude of 15-16,000 feet, equipped with missiles and rockets, so that it can destroy enemy installations. ‘Prachanda’ is the only light attack helicopter in the world, which can fly at an altitude of 5,000 metres and even land at that height. The state-run HAL prepared four prototypes of LCH.

Wing Commander Unni Pillai, as chief test pilot of HAL, did the test flight for these prototypes. On Monday, he said, other countries manufacture helicopters or weapons to suit their requirements, but India is among a few countries which has different terrain, from deserts to Himalayan peaks and the vast coastline. ‘Prachanda’, he said, has been developed keeping India’s requirements in mind.

‘Prachanda’ helicopter is equipped with Helina or Nag anti-tank guided missiles, which can destroy tanks and armoured vehicles from air. By using its stealth technique, it can evade the enemy’s radar. It is also equipped with laser technique and destroy any target from 8 km away. India TV Defence Editor Manish Prasad flew in ‘Prachanda’ LCH on Monday in Jodhpur. According to him, the Centre has given an order of 15 ‘Prachanda’ helicopters to HAL, out of which four were delivered to IAF on Monday. Earlier, on September 29, the Indian Army was delivered one ‘Prachanda’ LCH.

The uniqueness is that ‘Prachanda’ can fly up to 550 kilometres in a single sortie. The chopper has been made from crash-proof material. Its cabin can withstand any nuclear, biological or chemical weapon attack. The LCH is equipped with two Shakti engines, made with French collaboration.

The induction of indigenously developed ‘Prachanda’ light combat helicopter is a clear evidence of India’s march towards self-reliance (Atmanirbharta). The day is not far off when India’s dependence on other countries for weapon systems will be a thing of the past. ‘Prachanda’ is an example of how India can develop the most modern helicopter and market them abroad. This is, yet, only a beginning, and we will have to traverse a long distance.

For nearly 70 years since independence, we, in India, had almost taken import of defence equipment from abroad as a fait accompli. In order to modernize our armed forces, we had to depend on the US, Russia or France. The only worry was how to provide huge outlays for imports in our defence budget. We also worried about how to strike a balance between the Big Powers while purchasing weapons, ships and aircraft.

The worst part was a burgeoning army of middlemen fixing thousands of crores worth deals for purchase of defence equipment. It was being widely assumed that any big defence purchase will include underhand deals for those who are close to those in power. This was the normal, eight years ago. It was considered normal for any country selling defence equipment to India to appoint an agent and pay commissions.

Came Narendra Modi, and he put a full stop to all such shady deals. He changed the basic mindset on the issue of defence procurement. There was a big lobby which never wanted India to become self-reliant in defence production. By opening up defence production to private sector, Modi, in a single stroke, decimated this lobby. When Defence Minister Rajnath Singh flew a sortie on Monday in ‘Prachanda’ helicopter, the smile on his face clearly showed the immense pride in flying an indigenous war machine. I do hope, such moments of pride will come more often. The sooner, the better.

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