HAL displayed a light-attack variant of the ALH and a civil version is under way

Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) has launched a weight-reduction programme on its Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), to allow the aircraft to meet Indian army requirements.

Programme officials confirm that they are looking at a range of weight-saving measures on the 5,000kg maximum take-off weight helicopter. The target is to cut at least 150kg from the design by the time the first production-standard ALH is due to be delivered in December 1997. The main option is to increase the use of composites, now accounting for about 30% of the structure.

Although not a "show stopper", one source says that the extra weight means that the utility version of the ALH cannot meet a key army requirement to carry 250kg of supplies to its troops stationed on the Siachin Glacier on the border with Pakistan, where the two sides have been in frequent conflict in what is commonly known as the world's highest battlefield. Indian Army Cheetah helicopters are used to supply troops stationed on the glacier, but with much smaller loads. HAL denies that the ALH cannot meet the requirement.

In a separate move, HAL has drawn up a shortlist of three contractors to supply a five-screen multi-function display destined to be fitted to all versions of the helicopter. HAL chairman R N Sharma says that the list includes the UK's GEC-Marconi and France's Sextant Avionique.

Against this background, the Indian Government has signed a firm order for 100 locally produced ALHs, following its recent signature of a letter of intent (LOI) for up to 300 aircraft for use in a mix of utility, light attack and naval roles.

The LOI allows HAL to start raising money for production investment. US consultant Global Helicopter Technologies is close to completing a report for the company, to allow it to make proposals to finance houses for funds while continuing its seemingly fruitless search for a partner to aid production.

Despite that, Sharma says that the plan by 1999 will be to produce three helicopters a month, later moving up to four a month. Deliveries start a year earlier.

At the show, HAL had several prototypes flying in the display, plus another in the static park, modified for a light-attack role. A civil version is also under development, but this aircraft has not yet been flown.

The helicopter was fitted with a chin-mounted three-barrel 20mm gun, supplied by Lockheed Martin. The aircraft was also fitted with pylon-mounted Nag anti-tank missile and rockets.

HAL says that Government approval is expected soon for go-ahead on development of the new variant of the helicopter.

Source: Flight International