India-made helicopters are fully geared to support troops deployed at forward posts through the winter season in Ladakh, with two new types of choppers also proving their worth during recent flights at the high altitude cold desert.
The in-service Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), which has proved its worth in supply missions to the Siachen glacier, is being used by the army and air force, with its manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited NSE -2.48 % (HAL) confident that the aircraft will perform even better in the coming winters season to carry payloads for soldiers. “Both the army and air force are operating the chopper that has high altitude capability and can carry a meaningful payload where others find it difficult to go. More than 20 of the choppers are flying and support teams are in place,” HAL chairman R Madhavan told ET.
The ALH has been performing exceptionally well, with a record no aircraft on ground, which means that all machines are serviceable and flying without problems. Madhavan said that in the coming winters, it will be even easier to carry payloads as a temperature drop improves performance.
Besides the ALH, the state-owned company has also supplied two Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) to the armed forces in Ladakh, which are combat ready. While an order for the LCH is yet to be placed, HAL has sent the two choppers as demonstrators, with Madhavan saying that their performance has been appreciated.
While the air force has also deployed the heavier Apache attack choppers to Ladakh, the home developed LCH has been designed especially for operations in high altitude areas. “During the Kargil war, the lack of such a platform was felt. We started the LCH development based on that experience and it is a great asset for the army and air force as it is designed for high altitude operations,” Madhavan said, adding that the chopper is extremely manoeuvrable and is hard to detect on radars. Though the choppers are fitted with pods that can carry missiles and rockets, the armaments are still to be ordered, leaving it currently only with a gun pod for attack missions.
The third home developed helicopter that has conducted trials in Ladakh is the Light Utility Chopper, meant to replace the legacy Cheetah series of choppers that are used for a variety of missions, from dropping supplies to reconnaissance and casualty evacuation.
“We have conducted high altitude hot climate tests for the LUH that have been completed about two three weeks back. The chopper had proven itself to the air force last year and now has been validated by the army as well,” the official said.
As winters approach, making road access to several critical areas along the border impossible, choppers will be the lifeline for soldiers deployed at frontline posts in Eastern Ladakh. Besides transporting troops, they will be critical for dropping supplies besides being on standby for medical emergencies.