India Invests Massive $14 Billion In Indigenous Aircraft; After LCA Tejas, Now Big LCH Prachand Deal On Cards

Though the export of India’s indigenously developed aircraft is yet to take off, the ‘Make in India,’ or the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ policy of the government has received a major boost with a big order for the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) ‘Prachand.’

French CAESAR, Indian ATAGs To Bolster Armenian Defenses; Paris, Yerevan Sign New Military Deal

In a bid to bolster the military’s combat capability, particularly when operating at high altitudes, the Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has reportedly sent a Request for Proposal (RFP) to aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the purchase of 156 LCH Prachand.

According to unknown officials who spoke to the Indian media, the projected cost of the new helicopters—90 for the Indian Army and 66 for the Indian Air Force (IAF)—is ₹50,000 crores ($6B). The purchase is anticipated to strengthen India’s bid to achieve self-reliance in defense and expand indigenous production of weapon systems.

Until now, the HAL has produced just 15 units of LCH Prachand, including ten for the IAF and five for the Army in a limited series production capacity. However, with the new order, the helicopter will enter serial production. According to the officials, HAL plans to carry out the order in five to six years after the contract for 156 helicopters is inked.

The Light Combat Helicopter ‘Prachand’ has already been deployed to the Siachen Base Camp and along the eastern border with China. The recent order would boost the Indian military’s attempt to establish deterrence with its two adversaries across the northern and western borders: China and Pakistan.

The LCH Prachand is India’s first indigenous multi-role combat helicopter with potent ground attack and aerial combat capability. It has been customized to meet the Indian armed forces’ requirement to operate in deserts and mountains. The LCH is the only helicopter operating at 5,000 meters with a considerable load of weapons and fuel.

The helicopter was developed by India after its Russian Mi-25 and Mi-35 proved ineffective during the Kargil conflict against Pakistan in 1999. The production and induction of the LCH Prachand are noteworthy, given that the LCH project has had several hiccups since it was launched in the early 2000s.

File: LCH Prachand

The recent order suggests that Indian inventories will be filled with this state-of-the-art chopper that distinguishes itself with a maximum speed of 288 mph, a combat radius of 500 kilometers, and a service ceiling of 21,000 feet.

The LCH can carry out a wide range of tasks, including counter-insurgency operations in urban and jungle settings, destroying high-altitude bunkers, destroying enemy air defenses, and supporting ground forces. It can also target and destroy remotely piloted aircraft and slow-moving aircraft.

More importantly, however, it would stand out as yet another product of India’s ‘Make in India’ or ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ policies calling for indigenization. The recent purchase comes just months after the IAF placed a huge order for the LCA Tejas Mk1A aircraft.

The Indian MoD awarded a tender to HAL in April 2024 for 97 light combat aircraft (LCA Mk-1A). The planes will bolster the IAF’s strength amid a fighter squadron shortfall. The aircraft are being purchased at an approximate cost of ₹67,000 crores ($8B).

The IAF is already operating two squadrons of the Tejas Mk1 jets, comprising 20 each of Initial and Final Operational Clearance variants. An order for 83 LCA Mk1A variants was placed in 2021. The first lot of the LCA Mk1A jets is slated for delivery to the IAF in early 2024, but that deadline has been missed.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Tejas LCA Mk1A jet cockpit. (Twitter)

With another huge Tejas Mk1A order, the indigenously-produced aircraft will form a significant part of India’s air fleet. India has taken nearly 40 years to get a self-made functional combat jet inducted into its air force, with at least two squadrons of the Tejas LCA currently flying regular operational missions, including those near the northern and western borders with China and Pakistan in recent months.

The expansion in the production of both these aircraft—the poster children of India’s self-reliance in defense—may also be significant, given that neither the LCA Tejas nor the LCH Prachand has debuted in the export market yet.

LCA Tejas& LCH Prachand Await Export Debut

The Indian government has backed the LCA Tejas and has been making concerted pitches and attempts to propel it into the export market—albeit with no success yet.

In a previous interview, CB Ananthakrishnan, HAL CMD, said that the LCA ‘Tejas’ was the best in its category and had evoked interest from foreign buyers.

“Five countries have shown interest. With Argentina, it is still under discussion. Talks with the Philippines are in advanced stages. With Egypt also, we are in discussion. And talks with Nigeria have gained momentum,” Ananthakrishnan said. However, the talks have not moved and there is no word on progress.

Argentina sealed the deal to purchase the second-hand F-16s from Denmark, choosing the US-origin jets over India’s LCA Tejas. The Tejas also suffered a defeat when Malaysia chose the South Korean FA-50 over the Indian aircraft.

LCA Tejas

There were reports that the Philippines was offered the local assembly of the LCA Mk1 Naval variant. However, despite being the first-ever customer of India’s BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, the country has shown no further interest.

Similarly, Nigeria indicated its interest in the LCA as part of a $1 billion agreement to boost the defense industry in the African nation. However, the details of Nigerian interest in the LCA—whether to buy it for its armed forces or seek industrial cooperation with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited—have to be seen.

Interestingly, these countries have also shown interest in the LCH Prachand. Argentina signed a letter of intent to purchase 20 Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) Prachand.

Nigeria has shown interest in the Indian-built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) ‘Prachand,’ Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) ‘Dhruv.’

India has been reaching out to Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia countries, offering the LCA Tejas and the LCH Prachand. However, a sales agreement has yet to be finalized.