Challenger To India’s LCH ‘Prachand’? South Korean Light Armed Helicopter (LAH) Enters Mass Production

Two big Asian economies, India and South Korea, have bolstered their domestic defense manufacturing for self-sufficiency. Both nations are manufacturing similar lines of products, which has positioned them as competitors in the global export market.

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The most glaring example is India’s Tejas and South Korea’s FA-50 Light Combat Aircraft (LAC). Both fighters are competing for the Malaysian Light Attack Fighter contract, with the South Korean aircraft having a slight advantage over the Indian LCA.

That being said, the Malaysian LAC contract could be expected to be put on hold as some alleged irregularities in the contract are being investigated. In the meantime, South Korea and India continue to woo customers for their respective Light Combat Aircraft.

South Korea has now also decided to accelerate the production of its Light Armed Helicopter. It authorized a 5.75 trillion won (US$4.3 billion) plan to begin mass production of a homegrown light-armed helicopter (LAH) in the coming months.

The national arms procurement agency revealed the information on November 28.

KAI LAH - Wikipedia
KAI LAH – Wikipedia

According to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), the Defense Project Promotion Committee approved the LAH production plan to run through 2031 as part of attempts to replace the military’s aging fleet of 500MD and AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters.

The announcement comes just over a month after India’s indigenously developed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) ‘Prachand,’ (“fierce”) was formally inducted into the Indian Air Force at the Jodhpur airbase.

The Indian LCH has also garnered significant praise for becoming the only attack helicopter in the world that can land and take off at an altitude of 5,000 meters (16,400 ft).

At the time of its induction in early October, the Indian Defense Ministry said, “With its versatile features built-in for combat missions, LCH has the export capability.” Incidentally, the Indian Ministry of Defense has embargoed the import of Light Combat Helicopters and would potentially be looking at exporting the rotorcraft in the foreseeable future. You can read a detailed article in EurAsian Times on LCH Prachand here.

Thus, the Indian and South Korean defense manufacturers may ‘vie for the pie’ once again. However, the latter would not see deployment until at least late 2024, which loosely means that India is currently leading the way, as four of its helicopters have already been commissioned.

LCH Of India & South Korea

The South Korean DAPA is anticipated to sign an LAH agreement with Korea Aerospace Industries Co., the country’s lone aircraft manufacturer, later this year, with mass production beginning early next year. South Korea is the seventh country to have built an armed helicopter.

The 4.9-ton LAH has a cruise distance of 411 kilometers, an operation time of two hours and 35 minutes, and a top speed of 243 kilometers per hour.

In contrast, the Prachand is a 5.8-ton, Low Observable (LO) design with reduced visual, aural, radar, and infrared (IR) signatures. The helicopter has a maximum speed of 275 kilometers per hour and a combat radius of 500 kilometers.

South Korean air weaponry is primarily responsible for destroying North Korean tanks in case of a contingency. The South Korean LAH includes weapons such as air-to-surface missiles and rockets.

Other responsibilities include preventing North Korean special troops from infiltrating the sea and providing cover for South Korean air assault units. It can perform a variety of missions, including light attack, close-air support, escort, and troop transport.

In contrast, India’s Prachand LCH has been designed with air defense in mind, as previously noted by EurAsian Times. The helicopter will perform traditional combat helicopter roles – SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense), escort operations, support of combat search and rescue operations, and anti-tank and anti-infantry operations.

KAI LAH has a full-glass cockpit and can accommodate up to two crew members. Large LCD panels are used in the cockpit to improve situational awareness. The helicopter also has a nose-mounted electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor and missile warning receivers in the fuselage and tail.

In addition, it has a four-axis automatic flight control system (AFCS), a helmet-mounted display, a fire control system (FCS), and an anti-jamming global positioning system (GPS).

Prachand LCH 2
Prachand LCH – Photo Courtesy: Vijainder K Thakur

India’s Prachand, on the other hand, is equipped with an Electro-Optical Pod consisting of a CCD camera, FLIR, Laser Range Finder (LRF), and Laser Designator (LD). This will give the attack helicopter the ability to detect and acquire targets during the day as well as at night.

The South Korean LAH features real-time weapon targeting capability, a self-protective laser, and a man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) to tackle several threats.

In contrast, the Prachand is designed to conduct extensive air-to-air operations, anti-tank operations, and anti-infantry operations while ensuring self-defense owing to its Self Protection Suite consisting of Radar/Laser Missile approach warning and Countermeasures dispensing systems.

Furthermore, the LCH Prachand is designed for very high-altitude operations based on India’s unique security considerations, which are different than that of Seoul, topographically placed in a very diverse geography compared to India.