The Indian army, Air Force and the government had a lesson learned during the Kargil Conflict in 1999 when an Indian Mi-17 was shot down by a shoulder fired air defence missile. The Mi-17 was not built to fly at a height of 16000 ft but it was still continuously used by India to attack Pakistani positions in Kargil. After the war ended the need arised to have a dedicated attack helicopter with a capability to fly at high altitudes. In the year 2006, the state owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) announced its plan to develop a dedicated attack helicopter. After intensive design and development, the first helicopter flew on 29 March, 2010, just 4 years after the development work had started.
The helicopter has some stealth features. A semi-stealth design and the new camouflage painting scheme makes the helicopter partially invisible to radar as well as the naked eyes. Engine coating developed by the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai (IIT-M) further adds stealth as it reduced the infrared signature. Use of distributed architecture computer increases the data processing speed which makes the helicopter more agile. Its composite rotor blades and the use of armour plates allows it to operate easily in hostile condition under enemy gun fire. Powered by HAL Shakti engines this a 5.5 ton helicopter that can fly at an altitude of 21000 ft with a speed of 290 km/h. It uses a glass cockpit developed by HAL's Mission & Combat System
Research & Design Centre (MCSRDC).
The second helicopter flew on 28 June 2011 and the third prototype flew on 12 November 2014. The 4th prototype is expected to fly in late 2015 or in 2016. Recently the LCH underwent Cold weather trials at Air Force Station in Leh in early 2015. The engine starts were satisfactory in the temperature of -18 °C at 4.1 km altitude. The flights were also carried out to assess high altitude performance and low speed handling. The trials covered engine starts with internal batteries after overnight cold soak at 3 km altitude and 4.1 km altitude. In June 2015 the LCH successfully completed hot weather flight trials at Jodhpur with temperatures ranging from 39° to 49°C. The flight testing covered 'temperature survey of engine bay and hydraulic system', 'assessment of performance', 'handling qualities and loads' at different 'all up weights', 'low speed handling' and 'height-velocity diagram establishment'. The weapon firing trials will be held during the middle of 2016.
Its weapon include 70mm & 80mm multi barrel rockets, a 20mm cannon and DRDO HeliNa anti tank missile with LOAL and LOBL capability. It also has a unique integration of air to air missile to take down enemy helicopters and UAVs which keeps it immune against enemy helicopters.
Its capability to fly at high altitude with full load is the nightmare for enemy soldiers. Initially Air Force has ordered 65 LCHs and Army has ordered 114 helicopters mostly for the deployment against China and also against Pakistan in Kashmir. It will form the backbone for Indian Mountain strike Corp to be raised in next few years.
It will be very much effective against China as it could fly across Himalayas with full load of weapons. Its anti tank capability will be effective against advancing tanks of the Pakistan army. The LCH helicopter became the first attack helicopter to land in Siachen which clearly shows its capability to fight against Pakistan in future war scenario at such an high altitude that to with adverse climate.
With most of its trials except weapon trials completed LCH is expected to enter production in 2017. Weapon trials may not take much time as an attack helicopter does not have a range of weapons like an fighter aircraft. There are also the possibility that the orders for LCH may increase from current 179 to about 300 also including some foreign exports.