An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 09 May 2002


By and large, India's large military projects have floundered, as the DRDO decided to be the designer as well as producer (except the Prithvi and Agni missiles which were piggy backed on ISRO's achievements and the nuclear bombs on BARC's), whereby the Parkinson's laws had played havoc in the Organisation. The ARJUN and its successor MBT are lingering with no end in sight. The LCA, which was to be test-flown on 20th April, missed another deadline. Hence, there needs to be a rethink on where the Projects are going especially the Trishul and the Akash. IDC are convinced that foreign collaboration alone can save them.

So it was good news indeed that India’s Advanced Twin Engine 5-ton Light Helicopter (ALH) called Dhruv (Pole Star), which had been in the making for the last eighteen years with over $ 250 million spent on it, finally came to fruition. 

On 30 March 2002 Defence Minister George Fernandes formally handed over two machines, J-4041 and J-4042, to the Chief of the Air Staff, ACM S Krishnaswamy at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. Bangalore. The ceremony took place in the presence of NR Mohanty the Chairman of the cash rich HAL. He became emotional and acknowledged the hard work of those who saw the project through plenty of turbulence –– by attempting to incorporate the varied QRs of all the three services –– a feat in itself, and then got bogged down by sanctions imposed by USA in 1998. The crucial Allied Signals (now Honeywell), LHTEC 800 –– the ALH's intended 1300 shp engine (one was fitted in the proto type), was denied.

This forced HAL to re-certify the helicopter (with 1300 hours of flying in desert and high altitude conditions) with two less powerful 1000 shp Turbomeca TM333-2B turbo-shafts, delaying its entry into service. Turbomeca had already delivered 26 of a total of 82 TM333-2B2 turbo-shafts.

On 12 September 2000 a MoU was signed between HAL and Turbomeca to develop a more powerful version of the TM333-2B2 turbo-shaft. The new engine, called Shakti in India and Ardiden in France, is slated to be available for flight tests in 2003 and certification by 2005. 

A snag in the engaging mechanism of the two engines, which took place some time back when HAL tried to deliver its first machine, also set the project back. Now it is back on track and the challenge is to fit the weapon systems as the machines, avionics and radars are put through their paces, to overcome teething problems. More pilots are being converted at Bangalore where the support is available.

ALH was conceived to replace the HAL built Cheetah (Lama) and Chetak (Alouette) helicopters, which have provided yeoman service to the three services for the last 30 years. The ALH is a multi-role helicopter for both military and civilian uses, with the Indian Armed Forces as the captive customers. Work on ALH design began in 1984 with MBB now Eurocopter. The IAF was expected to be the largest customer and the total order of the series, which includes 120 for the Army, was expected to rise to 600 and hence much hope is placed on this endeavour.

The present cost of each machine is $6 million but BELL is waiting in the wings and has offered its Bell 407 versions for co production, while the LHTEC–800 engines are back on offer. Hence the success of the project is being watched with a hawk’s eye, especially the time frame. The Army needs a light attack helicopter badly.

In March, the Army received its first skid versions IA-1101 to IA-1103, while Navy’s VAdm SC Gopalachari, took over the wheeled and slightly more expensive and heavier IN-701 and IN-702. Coast Guard Director General VAdm O P Bansal accepted CG-851 a version similar to the Navy’s. Another Ambulance version is being test flown extensively as there is a market for such a product. Hence eight basic versions of Dhruv stand delivered and flying. The Army's version will ultimately have weapons systems including the DRDO’s fire and forget anti-tank missile NAG integrated, while the other versions will serve in utility and transport roles.

The Dhruv can carry 12 passengers and six in VIP configuration. The endurance of the machine is 4 hours and the maximum speed is expected to be 290 kmph.

The pilots praise the helicopter’s handling abilities. The ALH has a four-blade hingeless main rotor with advanced aerofoils and swept back tips, with a fibre elastoner rotor head and blades held between a pair of CFRP star-plates. It has manual blade folding and rotor brake standard, a four-blade bearing-less crossbeam tail rotor on the starboard side of the fin. Vibration damping is achieved by an anti-resonance isolation system comprising four isolator elements between the fuselage and the main gearbox, a fixed tailplane and an integrated drive system transmission.

The Naval ALH has retractable tricycle gear, a folding tail boom, harpoon deck-lock, pressure refuelling and fairings on the fuselage sides to house the main wheels, flotation gear and batteries. The trials have taken place on a Godavari class ship since 1995, which at present carries two Seakings MK 42B. The final Naval variant is to be fitted with dunking sonar, surveillance radar and a tactical mission system, which will need the more powerful engines if it is to be armed with torpedo and missiles for anti-submarine and anti-ship missions. The Navy has ordered 8 KA-31 from Russia in the interim for $ 200 million but the ALH project has taken birth and entered its most crucial phase –– to try to satisfy its customers. All flying fingers are crossed for its success.

(Pics: Courtesy

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