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ALH touches 20,000 feet and Cheetal 23,000
New Heights for Indian Helicopters


By Gulshan Luthra and Cmde Ranjit Rai (Retd) Published: September 2011

Bangalore. The armed version of India’s Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) touched 20,000 feet in a test flight early August while two Cheetals performed a daring rescue at 23,000 feet a few weeks later.


The ALH test flight was conducted by Army’s ace test pilot Brig Amardeep Sidhu in Leh while the two Cheetals were taken to this height by ace pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to rescue a stranded foreign mountaineer.

The armed version of the ALH, designated Rudra by the Army Aviation Corps which operates them, is still under various tests before its induction by end-2011. But so far, according to Chairman and Managing Ashok Nayak of HAL, which manufactures the helicopter at its Bangalore facility, all the required tests, undertaken step by step, have been successful.

Rudra has also cleared the airto- air and air-to-ground missile firing tests at the Interim Test Range at Balasore in Orissa and now, combined missile, rocket and gun firing tests, day and night, would be conducted later this year. Pilots also have Helmet mounted cueing systems to ensure precision attacks.

Notably, Rudra is powered by the new Shakti engine developed by HAL and the French Turbomeca, which should be a standard fitting in all versions of the ALH, including the high altitude attack helicopter now called LCH or Light Combat helicopter, Mr Nayak told India Strategic in an interview.

Cheetal, which is an upgraded Cheetah (Alouette) helicopter with a newer Turbomeca TM 333-2B2 engine, will be on its way out in the coming years when it is replaced by the ALH versions, including a brand new Light Utility Helicopter (LUH).

Nonetheless, despite its limitations, four IAF pilots, Wg Cdr S Srinivasan, Wg Cdr D C Tiwari, Flt Lt A Agrawal and Flt Lt A K Bharmoria, achieved the daring feat to rescue a seriously ill American mountaineer, who was part of an Indo-US expedition in the East Karakoram range of Ladakh region in India Aug 26.

But Shakti is the engine of today, Mr Nayak said adding that Turbomeca had done all the required Transfer of Technology (ToT) for its manufacture by HAL. The utility version is however still on the drawing board but should not take long to develop as its various components would be the same as those successfully tested on ALH variants. Its engine is also under the selection process.

Mr Nayak said that Phase I of the Shakti engine’s TOT was over, and the remaining three phases would be completed in about two years and then the infrastructure to manufacture it fully in India would be established. Significantly, he pointed out, the critical engine core technology had already been transferred.

It may be noted that Rudra, or ALHWSI (Weapon Systems Integrated) is coming in two versions. The Mark III, which Brig Sidhu took to the new heights, has Electronic Warfare and Targeting Systems while the Mark IV would have a French Nexter 20 mm turret gun, Belgian 70 mm rockets, and MBDA air to air and air to ground missiles. All these systems have been tested individually.

It may be recalled that when Pakistan intruded into India leading to the 1999 Kargil War, the Indian Army or IAF did not have high altitude helicopters. And as there are no Himalayan battle grounds in the world, the big international companies have not developed them yet.

Alouette, acquired in the 1960s, underwent periodic changes and innovations in the perspective of “Necessity is the Mother of Inventions” and the brave pilots of the Indian Air Force, Army and Navy have flown this helicopter despite its limitations.

HAL’ s Managing Director of the Helicopter Division, Mr Soundra Rajan, and General Manager, Dr Prasad Sampath, told India Strategic that the Dhruv “is now a mature platform” and that it has “far exceeded” the IAF and Army Qualitative Staff Requirements (QSRs) in terms of weight, range and heights. Improvements are still on.

Understandably, many systems on board the ALH are sourced from different countries, particularly France, but HAL deserves a big credit for integrating them on one platform. Both the Rudra and LCH have a glass cockpit, a 2nd generation advanced vibration control and monitoring system, as well as the significant Hover Control for critical moments.

Two prototypes of the LCH have done about 100 hours, flown by Group Captain Unni Pillai, a retired IAF test pilot, who is the Chief Test Pilot for HAL now.

Pillai, whom we met on a beautiful afternoon, was excited about the ALH and LCH, as well as the coming LUH. “It’s fun,” he said with a boy’s grin and smile, “to test these beautiful machines.”

Mr Nayak said that a 3rd prototype of the LCH is under development, and that it should be inducted by the IAF in about three to four years.

Details of the helicopter numbers, and the capabilities of their missiles, were not shared but Mr Nayak said that the Indian Armed Forces would have a big requirement in the coming years, and that HAL was strengthening itself to step up the production as required.

At the recent Army Aviations: Looking Forward seminar for instance, it was pointed out that Pakistan has twice the number of helicopters than India although our requirement is much larger due to the size and varying topography of the country.

HAL is also supplying the ALH to India’s paramilitary forces, including the Border Security Force (BSF), state governments and some civil organizations. There are a few exports also.

  © India Strategic  
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