Highlights

  • Indian armed forces in urgent need of replacing ageing choppers
  • Army's Cheetah chopper crash in Arunachal Pradesh highlights need
  • HAL tasked with supplying Light Utility Helicopters; work on IMRHs underway

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If India wants to dominate tension spots with China and Pakistan, two other types of helicopters are urgently required - light utility, and medium-lift.

Army chopper crash : Just days after the Indian military got a big firepower boost, tragedy struck, highlighting the challenges still lying ahead. An Army helicopter crashed near the India-China border, killing one of the pilots.

Recently, the Indian Air Force received its first batch of Light Combat Helicopter Prachand, mainly meant for mountain warfare. But if India wants to dominate tension spots with China and Pakistan, some other types of helicopters are urgently required.

LATEST MISHAP

A Cheetah chopper belonging to the Indian Army crashed on 5 October 2022 in Arunachal Pradesh's Tawang district. The incident took place around 10 am during a routine sortie. Both the pilots suffered injuries, and one died during treatment. The cause of the chopper crash was not immediately known.

ALSO WATCH | Why India's new LCH Prachand is 'extreme' weapon: special nuclear protection, stealth tech, & more

The crash immediately revived memories of the tragedy in which India's first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat had died. He had already survived one helicopter crash in Nagaland's Dimapur in 2015. The chopper carrying him then was a Cheetah too.

PAST TRAGEDIES

Over the years, the Indian Armed Forces have seen many chopper mishaps.

In December 2021, an Air Force Mi-17V5 helicopter crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. All 14 passengers died, including General Bipin Rawat. In February 2019, another IAF Mi-17V5 had crashed in Budgam in Jammu and Kashmir. Six Air Force personnel were injured. In April 2018, yet another IAF Mi-17V5 chopper had crashed in Kedarnath in Uttarakhand. The crew of 6 personnel had survived.

In October 2014, an Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv belonging to the IAF had crashed in Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh, killing 7 Air Force personnel. In May 2001, an Air Force Pawan Hans chopper crashed near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. The 6 casualties included state minister Dera Natung.

NEED FOR L.U.H.

These incidents, and more, have highlighted the need of two new types of helicopters for the Indian military. The first is a light utility helicopter, which is important for transportation as well as rescues in high-altitude areas like Siachen.

The military's ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleets need urgent replacement, and the new Light Utility Helicopters, or LUH, made by Hindustan Aeronautics, can help with this. The Indian Army has around 190 Cheetah, Chetak, and Cheetal choppers. The first step towards replacement was taken in November 2021, when the Defence Acquisition Council approved the procurement of 12 LUHs.

This needs to be expedited because five of the Army's choppers are over 50 years old, while around 130 helicopters are 30 to 50 years old. In the approved deal, the Army is set to get 6 LUH, while the Air Force will get another 6. The Air Force operates around 120 Cheetahs and Chetak helicopters. HAL has reportedly said that two LUH are in advanced stage of completion.

The total technical life of the light choppers operated by the armed forces are ending 2023 onwards, and the Army has reportedly floated the requirement of 111 Light Utility Helicopters.

MEDIUM-LIFT CHOPPERS NEEDED

The second type of chopper sorely needed by the military is a medium-lift helicopter.

Indian Air Force's medium-lift choppers like the Russian Mi-17 are set to be phased out. These can be replaced with the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter, or IMRH, that Hindustan Aeronautics has started working on. The Mi-17 choppers are reportedly being phased out from 2028, and can be replaced with the IMRH which is likely to be available in both armed and unarmed variants.

Its 3D model is reportedly complete, and wind-tunnel testing has started. The Army currently do not has its own medium-lift choppers, and depends on the Air Force for this. The Army has said it needs around 150 'tactical battlefield support helicopters'. The IMRH might be able to fulfil this need.

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy has around 60 medium-lift choppers, but has projected a need of 120 in the next few years which could be fulfilled by the IMRH. However, the project needs 7-8 years for completion, after the government gives its final clearance.

ONE STONE, TWO BIRDS

India's challenges at the disputed borders with China and Pakistan are far from over. In such a situation, augmenting the military's ageing helicopter fleet with made-in-India choppers can help achieve two objectives - secure the border, as well as reduce India's dependence on foreign weapons.

Read More:- 1 pilot killed as army chopper crashes in Arunachal near China border

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