Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HAL's Light Combat Helicopter overweight

Ajai Shukla
The HAL-manufactured aircraft is around 580 kg overweight.A jinx seems to hover above the armed forces’ urgent need for modern attack helicopters to replace the obsolescent Russian Mi-35s, which have been around for three decades. In March, the defence ministry had to cancel a global tender for 22 attack helicopters after international vendors signalled little interest. Meanwhile, the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), has run into a serious weight problem.

Business Standard discovered, during a visit to Bangalore, that the LCH — which should weight about 2.5 tonnes — is overweight by some 580 kilograms. For operations in the plains, or in the foothills, this would not be a disaster. But at Himalayan altitudes, near the LCH’s ceiling of 6,000 metres (19,685 feet), this would dramatically reduce the helicopter’s payload of rockets and missiles.

This weight problem means the LCH’s first flight will only take place at the end of this year. Despite the delay, that first Technology Demonstrator, named TD-1, will still be 400 kg heavier than planned.

The Managing Director of HAL’s brand new Helicopter Complex, R Srinivasan, told Business Standard that the LCH’s weight would be progressively reduced over the first three prototypes. “We will find ways of cutting down TD-1 by 180-200 kg; TD-2, which will fly in mid-2010, will be another 100 kg lighter; and TD-3, which will be ready by end-2010, will shave off another 65-75 kg.”

That still adds up to only 375 kg, which means that the LCH could enter production 200 kg heavier than planned. HAL bosses say the IAF has accepted the extra weight.

Attack helicopters are amongst the most difficult combat platforms to successfully engineer. Even a helicopter maker like Sikorsky, which can boast of having designed the legendary Black Hawk helicopter, lost prestige and over $6.9 billion in a failed attempt to develop the Comanche attack helicopter.

But HAL remains confident it can navigate these treacherous waters. Many of the key technologies — e.g. the Shakti engine, the rotors and the main gearbox — that will go into the LCH are being concurrently proven in the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), 159 of which are being built for the army and the air force.

Meanwhile, the weapons and sensor packages that give the LCH its fighting edge are being tested on a weaponised version of the Dhruv. HAL and the IAF have zeroed in on a Nexter 20 mm turret mounted cannon, an MBDA air-to-air missile, and an EW suite from SAAB, South Africa. India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has begun work on a HELINA missile, which is the successful Nag missile with an extended range of 7 kilometres.

HAL’s focus on the LCH is evident. The newly created Helicopter Complex has set up a Mission and Combat Systems R&D Centre, or MCSRDC, which is focusing on developing indigenous glass cockpits for the range of helicopters that HAL intends to churn out, starting with the LCH.

A glass cockpit refers to the tidy digital multi-function display that replaces the earlier clutter of dials and instruments that made flying so difficult.

So far, HAL has imported the glass cockpit displays from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Sagem, of

France. But with a range of helicopters in the making — including 179 LCHs; 187 Light Utility Helicopters (LUH); and 400 or so Medium Lift Helicopters (MLH) — there is a need, HAL believes, to develop its own glass cockpits.


Indian armed forces need to be equipped with world class weapon systems without any further delay. We have seen the fate of the project Arjun tank & in this process we have wasted crucial time and valuable resources . In my opinion we should simply go ahead with Apache AH-64 with option to manufacture in India . Simultaneously we can continue the efforts indigenous efforts .

Acquiring helicopters and aircrafts from foreign companies is the easiest and fastest act our Indian government can do. But each one of us must understand, indigenisation is the only way we can escape this monetary drain in the name of the nation's defence. Government undertakings such as HAL, NAL and DRDO all reel under lack of dedication, professionalism and sincerity, which all governmental organisation lack.We may call this indianism or indian way of working. Because if we indians are employed by NASA or even a oil platform in Oman or in a company which undertakes sanitary assignments of offices in New Jersey, we will work with utmost dedication and professionalism and will make the company the best in the market. But when we work for the country being paid by the crores of poor peasants and farmers toiling all the day in hot sun and with the ever failing monsoons, we tend to be slack, treacherous and irresponsible. One acquisition from a foreign company is atleast 50 to 60 times costlier than what we would have spent for a local purchase.Can any one judge the cost of a simple 0.5mm thick, 8mm dia aluminium washer with a 4mm dia hole used in a foreign acquired helicopter? It is costing Rs 40 to 60.Please dont even remember that we are no.2 in producing bauxite. A 25 metre cable with two simple 4 pin connectors used in a vibration analyser is costing a sum of Rs25000/- on the exchequer. So, please all directors, managers, scientists, engineers, technicians store keepers, vehicle drivers,safaiwalas and peons of governmental undertakings related to aviation and defence work with dedication atleast from 9 o clock to 5 o clock. Forget the babu giri and please try to reduce the burden on the poor. Those vast sum of money being laundered to the foreign weapon and aircraft dealers can be put to good use for the farmers and their families languishing in the remote villages of India.

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