SOURCE: DINESH BEHARA / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Once the world’s most peaceful disputed border for over five decades, The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is not the same now. The violent skirmishes between the Indian army and PLA at Galwan valley has changed the narrative. The Subsequent deployment of forces by both sides is a matter of concern. After the quid pro quo by the Indian army, the on-going disengagement talks don’t look like to be reached to an agreement soon, even after the consensus reached by the foreign ministers at the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). There is very little time for both India and China to reach the consensus. Hence Indian armed forces are preparing to embrace the harsh winter on the altitudes.
If the situation remains grim and any unusual event-will lead to more clashes or limited tit-for-tat reciprocal operations. In that case one of the concerns is the need for weapon systems at such altitudes. China has deployed its Type 15 lightweight tanks in the region, with its 105-millimeter caliber armor-piercing main gun, advanced fire control systems, and at approximate 36 tons weight, claiming that it can outgun any other light armored vehicles in high altitude regions.
After the Doklam incident in 2017, China has increased its ante in high altitude operations, this was well published in Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China (CPC), boasting about it they highlighted the development and system capabilities which are effective at high elevations such as GJ-2 strike drone, PCL-181 wheeled light howitzer and Z-20 light Utility helicopter. The Z-20 which was unveiled at the Fifth China Helicopter Exposition looks strikingly similar to the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter .
A similar situation arose two decades ago after the Kargil war, where it was apparent that there is a need for weapon systems suitable for high altitude operations. There were many systems to be upgraded or new ones to be procured such as Artillery (light howitzer were required), Infantry (light tanks around 30 tons), helicopters- to replace aging Cheetah, and chetak helicopters, etc.
Certainly, there is a reaction to this stimulus but other than the on-going procurement of M777 Ultralight Howitzer, even which was delayed for years, the progress on other systems is very slow. We are no-where close to acquiring a light tank capable of steering in mountainous conditions in the least two years. To keep up the supply of logistics a light utility helicopter is required and New Delhi is in talks with Moscow for Kamov Ka-226T helicopters, which will be produced by a Joint Venture between India and Russia in India under the ‘Make in India’ program. But the progress is at a snail’s pace. Apart from utility helicopters, there is also a need for combat/Attack helicopter to give air support to the forward troops or infantry at these locations.
Indian Military currently possesses Mil Mi-24, indigenously developed HAL Rudra, and newly acquired best in the class Boeing Ah-64 Apache helicopters in its arsenal. These machines are formidable but are quite unsuitable for high altitude operations. We require anywhere around 6000 meters of Service ceiling to cater to the needs at such challenging conditions.
The Kargil war had revealed the need for an attack chopper suitable for high altitude operations. To meet the requirement both HAL and Indian armed forces explored viable options. In 2006, With previous experience from the indigenous HAL Dhruv Helicopter development, HAL announced that it has started a program called “Light combat Helicopter” or simply as LCH to produce the rotorcraft. In March 2010, LCH made its maiden flight, as of now a total of 4 prototypes are produced for intensive tests. Presently LCH is the lightest attack helicopter and its service ceiling is highest among all attack helicopters. It also holds the distinction of being the first attack helicopter to land in Siachen.
On the other hand, the Chinese Military mainly PLA Ground Force operates changhe Z-8, Changhe Z-11, CAIC Z-10, and Harbin Z-19.Harbin Z-19 is a light attack helicopter based on the Harbin Z-9, which is a licensed version of the Euro copter Dauphin. The Z-19 is equipped with millimeter wave fire control radar, a turret with Infrared cameras, a laser rangefinder, and advanced Helmet Mounted Sight (HMS). But unlike most other helicopters it lacks a forward-mounted Machine Gun. The Changhe Z-8 and Z-11 are not suitable for high altitude operations. This left’s us with CAIC Z-10.
So, its HAL light Combat Helicopter (LCH) V/s CAIC Z-10.
Both Z-10 and LCH are narrow fuselage, stepped tandem cockpit design with two crew, and tricycle landing gear. The intent of both the helicopters remains the same and is to provide primary ground support for anti-armour or anti-tank warfare and secondary air-to-air capability. Z-10 has 5 blades main rotor and 5 blade tail rotors, it is a medium-weight Attack Helicopter (AH) with a maximum take-off weight of 7000 kg. The LCH on the other hand is a light Attack Helicopter and has 4 plus 4 main and tail rotors with 5800 Kg maximum take-off weight. Dimensionally either the helicopters more or less the same.
Power and Performance
Z-10 is powered by 2 X WZ-9 homegrown turboshaft engines with 1,300 hp each, it has a maximum speed of 270 Km/h with a range of 800 Km. It can reach a service ceiling of 6,400 meters and has a rate of climb of 10 m/s.
LCH is powered by 2 X HAL/Turbomeca Shakti-1H1 turbo shaft with 1,384 hp each. Turbomeca is a French manufacturer. This same Engine powers HAL Dhruv and Light Utility Helicopter (LUH). It can reach a service ceiling of 6500 meters and has a rate of climb of 12 m/s.
Z-10 has 23/25 mm revolver/autocannon as the main gun, an automatic grenade launcher can also be adapted to the turret next to the gun. With 4 hardpoints it can carry 57/90mm unguided rocket pods and up to 16 HJ-8/9/10 air-to-surface missiles, up to 16 TY-90 air-to-air missiles, and up to 4 PL-5/7/9 air-to-air missiles. But presently in any configuration, it can carry a maximum of 8 missiles, this is due to its engine limitations, but China has developed a more powerful engine WZ-16 with the help of the same Turbomeca to equip future or replace the WZ-9 engines. If Z-10 is powered by WZ-16 engines, then Z-10 can carry 16 missiles in any configuration.
LCH has 4 hardpoints and in various combinations, it can carry up to 4 X 70mm Thales Rocket pods, 2 X MBDA mistral air-to-air missiles or planned 4 X Helina anti-tank missiles and also it can carry other Cluster bombs, unguided bombs, or grenade launchers. The main gun is a 20 mm cannon by Nexter on a turret.
Z-10 has a YH-96 Electronic warfare system that integrates radar warning receivers (RWR), laser warning receivers (LWR), electronic support measures (ESM), and electronic counter-measures (ECM) together. It is also equipped with a Blue-sky navigation pod, BM/KG300G self-protection jamming pod, KZ900 reconnaissance pod, helmet-mounted sight (HMS), identification friend or foe (IFF), and fly-by-wire system. Like most of its western counterparts, Z-10 has Helmet mounted display (HMD) with night vision goggles. Z-10 has solid-state fully digitized YH millimeter-wave (MMW) fire-control radar (FCR), which can provide multiple targeting in adverse weather conditions.
LCH has a target acquisition and designation system (TADS), electronic warfare suite by Saab comprising radar warning receiver (RWR), laser warning receiver (LWR), and a missile approach warning (MAW) system. It is also equipped with a network-centric integrated data link for the transfer of mission data with airborne and ground stations. The Onboard Elbit CoMPASS sensor suite facilitates target acquisition on all weather conditions. It also has a helmet-mounted sight (HMS). At present LCH doesn’t have fire-control radar (FCR), the Boeing Ah-64 Apache recently acquired by Indian Air Force has a longbow FCR, but there is a buzz that a new radar for LCH is being developed by HAL.
Z-10 cockpit is protected by composite armor, the canopy is made of bulletproof glass and can stop 7.62mm rounds as well. careful attention has been given to reduce its electromagnetic characteristics to reduce the probability of being detected.
LCH possesses a relatively narrow fuselage and is equipped with stealth profiling, armour protection, it is also equipped with Chaff and flare dispensers.
Z-10 had its first flight on 29 April 2003, presently its already in service with PLA ground Air Force close to 300+ have been produced. LCH which had its first flight on 29 March 2010, is in its developmental stage and yet becomes operational. Z-10 can carry more payloads than LCH and due to its fly-by-wire system, MMW-FCR, it has an edge. The planned development of Helina is also crucial for LCH, economically a Z-10 is cheaper than LCH. The proposed WZ-16 engine to Z-10 will make it more powerful. LCH profile is stealthier than Z-10 and currently have an advantage in high altitude operations. Indian Air force needs around 65 LCH and the Indian Army Aviation corps around 114, so, if we take the production of 40 LCH/year, it will take around 5 years to complete the order.
On paper, as of now, Z-10 is clearly ahead of LCH, but Z-10s high altitude capability remains questionable with its current WZ-9 engine. However, since LCH is in its trial stages, addition of MMW-FCR and anti-armour missiles would make all the ticks in the checklist.
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