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LCH Light Combat Helicopter Prachand to be inducted into Indian aviation brigade based in Assam.

| 2022

The Indian Army is set to operationalise the first squadron of indigenous Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) this month, Ajay Banerjee reports in The Tribune. It will be based at Missamari air base in Assam and will be part of the aviation brigade tasked to defend the strategically vital western part of Arunachal Pradesh, the Indian state bordered by Myanmar and China. Historically, Missamari air base was used by the allied forces to transport personnel, supplies and equipment between India and Kunming, China, during World War 2.

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LCH Light Combat Helicopter to be inducted into Indian aviation brigade based in Assam The first LCH Prachand was handed over by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to Army Aviation director general lieutenant general AK Suri (Picture source: Twitter/ADG PI – Indian Army)

Missamari is located on the foothills of the Himalayas and is tasked to defend, among other places, the Tezpur-Bomdila-Tawang-Bum La axis. China had invaded the same route in 1962, Ajay Banerjee recalls.

The LCH was inducted into the Indian Air Force in October, with five helicopters being handed over to the Army Aviation Brigade in which they are being integrated with other assets of the brigade before a formal induction that will take place later in November.

The HAL Prachand (lit."Fierce") is a multi-role, light attack helicopter designed and manufactured by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under project LCH.] It has been ordered by the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army. Its flight ceiling is the highest among all attack helicopters in the world. The true impetus for the development of the LCH Prachand came in the form of the Kargil War, a conflict fought between India and neighbouring Pakistan in 1999, which revealed the Indian armed forces lacked a suitably armed rotorcraft capable of operating unrestricted in the high-altitude theatre.

The LCH Prachand drew extensively on an earlier indigenous helicopter developed and manufactured by HAL, the ALH Dhruv; using this rotorcraft as a starting point has been attributed as significantly reducing the cost of the programme. On 29 March 2010, the first LCH prototype performed its maiden flight. An extensive test programme, involving a total of four prototypes, was conducted. During the course of these tests, the LCH gained the distinction of being the first attack helicopter to land in Siachen, having repeatedly landed at several high-altitude helipads, some of which being as high as 13,600 feet (4,145 meters) to 15,800 feet (4,815 meters). Powered by two Turbomeca Shakti engines, the copter has a service ceiling of 6,500 meters (21,000 ft), making it ideal to fly over the highest of Himalayan passes. The 5.8-tonne helicopter carries a turret gun, a rocket firing system and air-to-air missiles.

During mid-2016, the LCH was recognised as having completed its performance trials, paving way for the certification of its basic configuration. On 26 August 2017, limited series production of the Prachand was formally inaugurated. On 19 November 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally handed over the LCH to IAF Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari, clearing the way for full-scale induction. On 3 October 2022, the LCH was formally inducted into the IAF and officially renamed "Prachand".

The Army Aviation Brigade at Missamari was raised in March 2021. It has a squadron of weapon system integrated (WSI) version of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) carrying the mistral air-to-air missiles. The Army Aviation and the Indian Air Force have joined hands for future operations. The IAF’s CH-47 Chinook and the Mi-17 helicopters are co-located with the Army Aviation as part of the effort to quickly deploy troops in the valleys of Arunachal Pradesh.

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