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Indian Army looking at procuring around 200 indigenously-built Prachand and LUH

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari and Chief of Army staff General Manoj Pande release booklets on Indian Air Force during an event on the sidelines of the second day of Aero India 2023, at Yelahanka Air base in Bengaluru, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. A PTI Photo

BENGALURU (PTI):  The Army is planning to procure around 95 Prachand Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) and 110 Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) to enhance the profile of its combat aviation wing, Chief of Army Staff Gen Manoj Pande has said.

Gen Pande told a group of journalists on Tuesday on the sidelines of Aero India, that the Army is looking at inducting the indigenously-built LCHs for deployment in high-altitude areas as the chopper has better maneuverability in mountainous regions.

The Army is looking at procuring the LUHs and LCHs to replace its ageing fleets of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters.

He said one of the weapons systems to be integrated into the LCH Prachand would be Helina missiles and their trials have been successful.

"We are looking for integration of the Helina missiles on the aircraft," he said during the briefing at the Yelahanka Air Force complex on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

Developed by state-run aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the 5.8-tonne twin-engine chopper is capable of destroying enemy tanks, bunkers, drones and other assets in high-altitude regions.

The helicopter possesses modern stealth characteristics, robust armour protection and formidable night attack capability, and it is fully capable of even operating in Siachen, the world's highest battle-field.

The army chief said the LCH is very versatile in terms of its maneuverability.

The Defence Acquisition Council has already accorded approval for the procurement of 40 Helina launchers and missiles. "Its integration on aircraft is something we believe is important for us to maximise the potential of anti-tank guided missiles," Gen Pande said.

The army chief said out of the initial five LCHs, the force has already received three. On the LUHs, Gen Pande said, the army is getting six limited series versions of the helicopter initially.

"Thereafter, we are looking at 110 LUHs," he said, adding the army will take forward the procurement plan based on the performance of the initial six choppers.

"Our overall requirement in this class is about 250 helicopters," he said.

The Chief of the Army Staff also suggested that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the producer of the helicopter, is working on capability enhancement of the platform including the autopilot feature.

Gen Pande said that the Army is expected to receive the first lot of American Apache attack helicopters out of the total six in the early part of next year while the remaining ones are likely to be delivered by end of 2023.

The LUH is designed and developed as a replacement for Cheetah and Chetak helicopters which are being operated by the Indian Armed forces.

It is a new generation helicopter in the three-tonne class incorporating the state of the art technology features like glass cockpit with multi-function displays (MFD).

The Chief of the Army Staff also referred to Army Aviation having Advanced Light Helicopter (Weapons System Integration) versions. The force currently has four squadrons of such helicopters.

Gen Pande also highlighted the infusion of niche technologies for surveillance along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and said the focus has been to procure a range of drones.

He cited the importance of micro to mini drones to the tactical-level unmanned aerial vehicles as well as more longer range ones for overall surveillance.

Gen Pande said the focus has also been on counter-anti-drone technologies including hand-held drone jammers.

"We are looking at more soft-kill and hard-kill options for countering drones. Even swarm drones for that matter," he said.

Asked about China deploying new-age technologies along the LAC, the Chief of Army Staff said that the Army has electronic warfare (EW) units.

Gen Pande suggested that the Army has formed two EW battalions in the Northeast and that they are already underway.

On China's use of surveillance balloons in the US and Canada and whether the country can use similar tactics against India, Gen Pande underlined the need for remaining alert about new technologies.

"I have been saying that we have to constantly remain current to what is happening around us. ...we have to be ahead of the learning curve," he said.

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