LIMA 2023: HAL shows LUH with hint that international customers may join production line

HAL brought a Light Utility Helicopter to LIMA 2023, the first time it has ventured overseas. (Gordon Arthur)

India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) brought an example of its Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) to LIMA 2023 in Langkawi, Malaysia, marking the first time that this particular helicopter type has travelled overseas.

A HAL representative told Asian Military Review that the original intention was to fly the 3-tonne-class LUH to Malaysia, but in the end it was carried by an Indian Air Force (IAF) C-17 due to logistic considerations.

The helicopter on static display is a limited series production example, one of 12 such LUHs being produced by 2024. The first was rolled out in February, and the Indian Army and Air Force will receive six each later this year.

Around 72 percent of the LUH’s components are sourced from India, and the helicopter is optimised for hot and high conditions. Indeed, in evaluations it landed at a helipad situated at an altitude of 22,000 feet (6,700 metres) in the Himalayas.

The HAL official said that ultimately the Indian military needs about 600 helicopters of this class, although orders are likely to top at around 400, to replace elderly and accident-prone platforms like the Chetak and Cheetah.

HAL said it is awaiting the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to work through the process of awarding a contract for series production examples of the LUH. HAL has built a 615-acre production facility in Tumakuru, approximately 62 miles (100 kilometres) from Bangalore, that will initially be able to build 30 LUHs annually, eventually ramping up to 60 aircraft per year.

While supplying the Indian military will be a priority for the LUH production line, HAL said that neighbouring countries and some in Southeast Asia are potential customers too. This explains why HAL brought an example to Malaysia so early on in its career.

As for the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), HAL has delivered 15 of these attack helicopters so far, of which five went to the Indian Army and ten to the IAF. They differ in communications equipment and camouflage schemes, with the IAF favouring black.

As with the LUH, HAL is awaiting a further series production order from the Indian MoD. This is expected to be up to 145 attack helicopters.

HAL has also delivered 78 Rudra light attack helicopters to the Indian Army and 18 to the IAF. The Rudra is based on the Advanced Light Helicopter, also known as the Dhruv.

In addition, HAL has the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) on the drawing board, but the representative said a prototype is still 3-4 years away. The IMRH will replace the ubiquitous Mi-17-family helicopters obtained from Russia.

HAL ambitiously hopes to build more than 1,000 helicopters over the coming two decades. The needs in India are tremendous, but so too are the delays.

by Gordon Arthur, Langkawi