India is going ahead with an indigenous light utility helicopter (LUH) after it proved it worth during high altitude operations, including at the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) airstrip on the China border. The defence ministry has given the go ahead for placing an order for 12 of the choppers, with developer and manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics NSE -1.37 % Limited (HAL) expected to deliver the first by August next year.
The LUH is a homegrown success story, having demonstrated its capability of operating in all kinds of environments, with a focus on high altitude missions that are essential for maintaining troops on the Pakistan and China border.
HAL Chairman R Madhavan told ET that the letter of acceptance for 12 helicopters – six each for the army and air force – has been received and work has started to produce the aircraft. “The LoA has been received and we plan to deliver the first helicopter by next year. The production facility at Tumkur is ready and we will manufacture the choppers there,” he said.
The LUH order is a boost for the Make in India initiative, given that the chopper has been fully designed and developed in house by HAL, borrowing on the expertise gained by older platforms like the Advanced Light Helicopter.
While 12 helicopters are to be ordered in the first lot, the expected requirement of the LUH within the services is pegged at 185. In addition, India and Russia have also been negotiating a deal for the Kamov Ka 226 helicopters for the army and air force to fulfil the large needs of such type of aircraft.
The LUH will progressively replace the Chetak and Cheetah helicopters that operate at impossible heights on the border, including the Siachen glacier. Given its new design, the LUH can carry more than eight times the meaningful payload to the highest helipads in the world, as compared to the Cheetahs.
The indigenous chopper has gone through rigorous trials and tests by the services, including at forward helipads on the border. These include test missions from Leh to both the China and Pakistan borders. It has also demonstrated a flawless flight from Bangalore to Leh, a distance of over 3000 km, in three days without any servicing issues.