India’s Air Force Gets a ‘Made in India’ High-Altitude Combat Helicopter

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday officially introduced a domestically developed light-combat helicopter into the Indian Air Force, hailing the aircraft’s addition as a big step for India’s self-reliance in the defense sector.

“For a long time, India has had to be dependent on foreign attack helicopters,” said Mr. Singh, speaking at an Air Force base in the western desert state of Rajasthan. “This is an important milestone in India’s defense production.”

Last week, Mr. Singh also marked the aircraft’s addition to the army.

The aircraft, developed by state-run defense and aerospace manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., is called Prachand, meaning fierce, in Hindi. Bengaluru-based HAL has said this is the only light-combat helicopter capable of takeoff and landing above 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) with weapons loads, and comes with stealth features, armored protection and night-attack capabilities. The 5.8-metric-ton, twin-engine craft relies on engines developed with the helicopter engine unit of French aerospace manufacturer Safran SA.

India has ordered 15 of the helicopters for about 39 billion rupees, the equivalent of $478 million, the government announced in March. It expects to need about 160 of them, according to Hindustan Aeronautics, which has also developed a series of other helicopters for military use.

New Delhi’s efforts to strengthen its military supply chains have long included a quest to source more armaments domestically, but the effort has proceeded slowly. Alongside a broader effort to boost manufacturing in India, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pushing hard for more indigenous development in the defense sector.

The development of this helicopter predates the current ruling government. A conflict with Pakistan on the two countries’ shared Himalayan border over two decades ago prompted India to seek to develop its own high-altitude aircraft. A prototype of the aircraft was first tested in 2010.

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