Continuing the Indian military’s successful run with the indigenous Dhruv light helicopter platform, the air force recently took delivery of its first Rudra, the Mk. 4 version, which is reinforced, weaponized and armored.

The Indian army has contracted for 60 Rudra helicopters, 20 of which are due for delivery in 2013. The new armed helicopters will be assigned to special aviation units.

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), which builds the aircraft, considers the delivery a milestone on a Dhruv production line that needed new work to stay alive. The Rudra deploys a Nexter THL-20 20mm chin-mounted turret gun, 48 70mm rockets in twin pods, anti-tank guided missiles and four MBDA Mistral air-to-air missiles.

Targeting systems on the platform include an electro-optical day/night pod (with FLIR and CCD TV), a helmet pointing system and a fixed sight. Warning and countermeasure systems include a fully indigenous radar warning receiver, laser warning receiver, missile approach warning receiver and flare and chaff dispensing systems. Survivability features include duplex redundant systems, infrared suppressors and armor panels.

At the ceremony earlier this month in which the platform formally received initial operational clearance, HAL’s rotorcraft division chief, P. Soundara Rajan, said, “Developing and building the Rudra involved four major groups of systems and weapons, involving eight countries: Israel, France, Belgium, South Africa, Germany, Italy, U.S. and India. Nearly 23 km of cables had to be laid and hundreds of hours of flight and ground tests were carried out.”

Powered by the Turbomeca Shakti turboshaft engine, the Rudra has a maximum all-up weight of 5.8 tons and is built specifically for high-altitude performance. It is capable of landing and operating from helipads at altitudes of 6 km (4 mi.) high or more, according to official literature on the helicopter.

An officer with HAL’s Rudra development and test team says, “We also aimed to integrate the sensors and weapons in such a manner as to keep the pilot workload to a minimum. The glass cockpit and the computers behind it filter a whole lot of information and presents to the pilot only what is required at that time. The electronic warfare suite senses the environment around, and presents exactly where the hostiles and friendlies are. Further, the helmet-mounted display provides all the information directly in front of the pilot’s eyes. So he doesn’t have to look down. He can continue to look out, fly, acquire target, aim and fire.”

Such capabilities may be standard on modern helicopters—the Indian air force recently chose the Boeing AH-64D Apache Block III for its attackrotorcraft requirement—but the Rudra is India’s first attempt at a weaponized rotary-wing platform.

An army officer who flew the Rudra during user evaluation and confirmatory trials last year says, “The Rudra is a dependable and sturdy machine. We have had a good experience with the Dhruv, and we believe that there is much we can do with the Rudra. It brings a lot of firepower, is a robust and survivable machine, and is a proven platform. It has great present and future potential, and we look forward to flying it.”

With exports of the base Dhruv helicopter to countries including Ecuador, Turkey, Peru and Nepal, and with potential sales to Bolivia and Venezuela, HAL looks forward to making the Rudra available to foreign customers quickly as well. HAL already has begun to formulate an export file on the Rudra for circulation in Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Technologies developed for the Rudra also feed directly into HAL’s Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) program, which involves a narrowed Dhruv fuselage with tandem seats. With two prototypes in flight test and a third, with significant weight reduction, to join tests in two months, the LCH program is moving quickly. Both prototypes recently passed sea-level trials on the country’s southeast coast.

The air force will be the LCH’s principal customer, though an unspecified number will also be operated by the army. The air force and army are embroiled in a turf war over the use of armed battlefield air assets, with the latter winning what appeared for a time to be a game of brinkmanship. Despite some speculation, there is no doubt that the soon-to-be-contracted AH-64Ds will be inducted into the air force.

Dhruv photo: HAL