During the 1999 Kargil War, operations of Indian Air Force were hampered as the only combat helicopter, the Mi-35, couldn’t operate at extremely high altitudes where most of the conflict was concentrated.
"The Mi-35 couldn’t even cross the Banihal pass. We were handicapped and badly needed a chopper that can even launch assaults at high altitudes,” (Retd) Wing Commander Unni Pillai, the chief test pilot of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) reminisced.
Seventeen years after the war, India has an indigenous combat helicopter that can carry out operations even at the 19,600-feet high Siachen glacier. Designed and built by HAL, the Light Combat Helicopter is the only machine in the world that can carry out operations at such high altitudes.
Last year we successfully landed this helicopter at Siachen glacier, the only combat helicopter to do that in the world.Unni Pillai, (Retd) Wing Commander and Chief Test Pilot, HAL
Armed with a nose gun, rockets, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, the LCH is a 5.8-tonne class chopper, heavily armoured and engineered for combat. The helicopter has a state-of-the-art cockpit with day/night targeting systems for the crew including the helmet pointed sight, with the help of which the pilot can aim just by looking at the target. The LCH is fitted with a self-protection suite consisting of radar/laser missile warning systems and counter measures dispensing system (CMDS).
“The machine can carry weapons up to 1,000 kg. In addition, we have a nose gun which can carry up to 300 rounds of ammunition of different type, penetrating or high explosives,” added Pillai.
Pillai said the first limited series of 10 helicopters will be available to the Indian Air Force in the next four months.
The first prototype helicopter had its inaugural flight on March 23, 2010.
Commenting on the Make in India initiative, he asserted that the requirements of the Indian Air Force can only be met by aircraft manufactured locally.
We have a particular operating environment and we are the best people to make as per our requirement. American machines don’t have a requirement to operate above 10,000-12,000 feet. Hence to enhance our operation capabilities, it is important we make in our country.(Retd) Wing Commander, Unni Pillai, Chief Test Pilot, HAL