The Coast Guard has finally inducted the first three of 16 Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) Mk-III designed and manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
“The ALH Mk-III marine version has been designed and developed with in-house customisation of 19 additional equipment by HAL to meet Indian Coast Guard requirements,” a recent statement said.
“The HAL will supply 16 ALH Mk-III to the Indian Coast Guard by mid next year,” it stated.
On induction, the 16 ALH Mk-III will be positioned at four Coast Guard squadrons at Bhubaneshwar, Porbandar, Kochi and Chennai.
The Navy inducted the first batch of three ALH MK-III helicopters into service at INS Hansa in April. Early this week, the Navy inducted three ALH MK-III at INS Dega in Visakhapatnam.
This is the first bulk order of the Dhruv Mk-III placed on the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited by the two services – Indian Army and the Indian Coast Guard.
The customized Mk-III under delivery features a full glass cockpit with HAL’s Integrated Architecture Display System (IADS), more powerful ‘Shakti’ (Safran Ardiden 1H1) engines, and a host of new systems integrated by HAL’s Rotary Wing Research and Design Centre (RWRDC).
Initially two ‘green’ helicopters were handed over to RWRDC by HAL’s Helicopter Division in June 2018 for system integration. The work was completed briskly by HAL in under two years before COVID-19 lockdowns put the brakes on field trials.
Lockdown Delays for Coast Guard
After the lockdown restrictions were gradually lifted by Indian government in May 2020, sensor integration and sea trials resumed at Kochi, Chennai and Goa on the first of Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy airframes.
By November 2020, two helicopters churned the air above Bengaluru almost daily for customer training. Acceptance flights by HAL test crew were in progress when this author visited, with the first lot expected to be formally ‘signalled out’ for customer acceptance sorties at the end of November.
The contract for 32 coastal security ALH was inked in March 2017 with ICG as the lead service. The IN order for 16 — to supplement its ageing and depleting fleet of Alouettes (Chetaks) — was dovetailed into this program based on the overarching responsibility for coastal security placed on it by the Government of India in the wake of 26/11 terrorist attacks of 2008 in Mumbai.
The selection of systems and customisation for the ALH has been done primarily in consultation with Indian Coast Guard.
For its coastal security role, the aircraft has a nose-mounted surveillance radar with 270-degree coverage that can detect, classify and track multiple marine targets; it has synthetic-aperture radar, inverse synthetic-aperture radar, and moving target indication classification functions, including weather mode.
There is also a multi-spectral electro-optic (EO) pod for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and range finding with stowable control grip on copilot side.
Other features include a removable medical intensive care unit for the air ambulance role; high-intensity searchlight, loudhailer, 12.7-mm cabin-mounted machine gun (with provisions on the left side), traffic alert and collision avoidance system etc.
The ALH comes fitted with a V/UHF communication system with data modem, IFF Mk-XII with Mode S transponder, automatic identification system, automatic deployable emergency location transmitter, solid state digital video recorder, pressure refuelling system, 360-degree search-and-rescue homer with coverage from 110-410 MHz, electrical rescue winch with rescue basket for double-lift (250 kilograms/550 pounds), control grip (winchman mini-stick) in cabin for air-sea rescue, and upgraded IADS and automatic flight control system software.
Such an array of systems was hitherto seen only on heavier, multi-role helicopters of the Indian Navy.
First Glass Cockpit
For instance, no light helicopter in the Indian Navy’s inventory ever featured a glass cockpit, surveillance radar or EO pod. The helicopter bears a ‘fully loaded’ look.
The maximum certificated all-up weight has been revised to 5,750 kg (12,675 lb.) from the earlier Mk-I variant of IN and ICG that weighed in at 5,500 kg (12,125 lb.).
Folded dimensions, a cumbersome blade-folding procedure, performance and maintainability issues plagued afloat exploitation of the eight limited-series production ALH Mk-I in naval inventory since their induction in 2003.
The Indian Coast Guard holds four ALH Mk-I in its inventory, again with no integral ship flight.
Six of the 16 naval Mk-III ALH are to be equipped with an indigenous Low Frequency Dunking Sonar (LFDS) developed by Kochi-based Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory.
The sonar’s units are being produced by state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited with a host of sub-vendors downstream. Earlier this decade, the navy had offered a Mk-I naval ALH as test bed for developmental trials of the LFDS.
The Indian Navy views the coastal security ALH and Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH) programs differently. Seamless deck interface and a seagoing, light multi-role helicopter under 4.5 tonnes drives the navy’s flagship NUH program, sought to be delivered through a strategic partnership between an Indian Original Equipment Manufacturers and foreign partner under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.