The prototype helicopter was built with 'Segmented Pre-Cone MRBs' and 'Pre-Cone MRH'. The two-segment MRBs and the pre-cone configuration have been developed to address the stringent stowage dimension requirement specified by the Indian Navy
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On June 30, 2022, the ship-borne version of the Advance Light Helicopter (ALH) ‘Dhruv’ having wheels undertook a successful maiden flight. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) conduced this first flight of the wheeled version of the Dhruv helicopter with segmented Main Rotor Blades (MRBs) and Main Rotor Head (MRH) in pre-cone configuration at Bengaluru. The helicopter was flown by Wing Commander Unni Pillai, ED (CTP-RW). On completion of mandated ground testing of various factors, the prototype helicopter was built with ‘Segmented Pre-Cone MRBs’ and ‘Pre-Cone MRH’. The RTB runs, Ground Resonance test and Clamped Power Ground Run were carried out to be found satisfactory.
The two-segment MRBs and the pre-cone configuration have been developed to address the stringent stowage dimension requirement specified by the Indian Navy, as also to improve the Time Between Overhaul (TBO) life of the gear box. According to Arup Chatterjee, Director Engineering and R&D of HAL, the project was carried out in the shortest possible time with the support of RCMA and DGQA. Detailed flight evaluation is scheduled to ensure the efficacy of the pre-cone configuration.
As a major weapon system the Dhruv-ALH is the first one to have secured multiple foreign sales. With a unit price at least 15 per cent less than its rivals, the Dhruv has elicited interest in many countries
HALs ALH Dhruv is a utility helicopter, development of which was announced in 1984 and first Dhruv flown in 1992. Designed to meet the requirement of both military and civil operators, Dhruv entered service in 2002. Military versions in production include transport, utility, reconnaissance and medical evacuation variants. Based on the Dhruv platform, the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), a dedicated attack helicopter and the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), a utility and observation helicopter have also been developed. As of January 2022, 335 HAL Dhruv helicopters have been produced for domestic and export markets logging more than 340,000 flying hours.
Military variants of the ALH Dhruv include: Mk-1; Mk-2; Mk-3 - improved version equipped with Shakti-1H engines, new electronic warfare (EW) suite and warning systems, automatic chaff and flare dispensers, and improved vibration control system; Mk-3 Coast Guard - same in performance to the Mk-3 but with additional equipment like cabin mountain machine gun, high intensity search light and loud hailer; Mk-3 Navy/Mk-3 Marine Reconnaissance (MR) having additional equipment like modern surveillance radar and electro-optical equipment to carry out MR and long-range search and rescue missions, with heavy machine gun and capability to mount at least two ASW torpedoes, and; Mk-4 – also called Dhruv-WSI (Weapon System Integrated) or HAL’s ‘Rudra’.
As a major weapon system the Dhruv-ALH is the first one to have secured multiple foreign sales. With a unit price at least 15 per cent less than its rivals, the Dhruv has elicited interest in many countries, mostly from Latin America, Africa, West Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific Rim nations. Air forces from around 35 countries have made inquiries, along with requests for demonstrations. Flight certification for Europe and North America is also being planned in order to tap the large civilian market there.
The maritime role fitments add additional 40 crore to the cost of each Dhruv MR, bringing the total cost around 110 crores.
In 2008, the ALH-Dhruv beat foreign competition to supply 17 helicopters to Turkey. However, Turkey leased only two Dhruv helicopters to be used as Air Ambulances for its Health Department saying once Turkey operates the ALH-Dhruv helicopters and is satisfied with its performance, maintenance, and spares supply, they will go in for more of these helicopters. Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, and now the Philippines are already operating the Dhruv ALH in small numbers and have expressed interest in more. Myanmar reportedly is interested in importing the LCH Rudra.
Over the years, the Dhruv ALH has become more sophisticated while also becoming more expensive. The Dhruv Mk-1, the first ALH variant, was sold to the military for 45-50 crore whereas, each Dhruv Mk-3, with its glass cockpit and anti-vibration dampers, costs 70 crore. The maritime role fitments add additional 40 crore to the cost of each Dhruv MR, bringing the total cost around 110 crores. As HAL develops new and more advanced variations, its expertise in the design and development of helicopters also grows.
ALH-Dhruv (wheeled version) whose segmented blade feature reduces the folded length and width of the helicopter, making it compatible with the hangar space available on most of the Indian Navy ships
The Indian Navy and Coast Guard are operating ALH for the last 18 years supporting their operations for various missions. However, the ship deck based operations of ALH have been limited as the stowage size required for ALH exceeds the hanger sizes available in Navy ships. This problem has now been addressed with the ALH-Dhruv (wheeled version) whose segmented blade feature reduces the folded length and width of the helicopter making it compatible with the hangar space available on most of the Indian Navy ships. Further, the time required for folding or unfolding operations is also reduced.