India delays LCH first flight to March 2009

Singapore
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India's Hindustan Aeronautics has delayed the first flight of its indigenous light combat helicopter (LCH) design until March 2009, but aims to secure initial operational clearance for the type by December 2010.

"Originally they planned to have the first flight in October 2008. There have been some small delays, but it is not anything major and they expect the first flight to take place in four months," says a source close to HAL.

The Indian air force has committed to 65 helicopters, which could enter service around 2012 and be used for anti-tank and anti-infantry roles. The new attack helicopter will be powered by two Shakti engines jointly developed with France's Turbomeca, and which already power HAL's Dhruv advanced light helicopter.

HAL has based the LCH's platform on the Dhruv's, giving it a maximum speed of 148kt (275km/h) and an operational ceiling of around 18,000ft (5,490m). The new design also incorporates some stealth features and a crashworthy landing gear, and its manufacturer has worked with Israeli companies to develop its avionics equipment, which includes helmet-mounted targeting systems.

The LCH will be armed with a turret-housed 20mm twin-barrel gun and can also carry air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles, rocket pods and cluster bombs, and have an electronic warfare suite. When in service, the type will join the air force's Mil Mi-35 attack helicopters, reportedly being upgraded with new Israeli avionics and night-fighting capabilities.

New Delhi has launched a separate international tender for another 22 attack helicopters, while HAL is also working on an armed version of the Dhruv which should achieve initial operational capability in December 2009. The company is integrating turret guns, rockets and missiles, and expects to launch flight trials in the coming months.