By March 2013, the Indian Army's plan to have an inbuilt air component for each of its 13 Corps (a Corps has approximately 60,000 soldiers) will begin to take shape.
According to a plan drawn up by the Army Aviation Corps, each Corps will have three squadrons (30 helicopters) of various types. The three squadrons will have three distinct roles--reconnaissance and surveillance, attack and utility.
While the existing fleet of Cheetahs and Chetaks will continue to have the reconnaissance and surveillance roles, the indigenously built light combat helicopter (LCH), christened Rudra, will combine other two tasks.
Currently, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is tasked with manufacturing 60 LCH Rudras. The first 20 helicopters are expected to be inducted into the Army Aviation Corps starting March 2013 after the choppers are put through the mandatory Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) at the Bangalore-based Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC).
HAL which has developed the armed helicopters will be responsible for carrying out the certification process.
The Rudra will come armed with a M6-21, 20 MM turret gun, 70 mm rockets, besides anti-tank guided missile as well as air to air missiles.
The first two squadrons of the Rudra will be armed with imported missiles. The subsequent batches of helicopters will be armed with indigenously made missiles.
The Rudra is powered by a new Shakti engine which has been jointly developed by the HAL and French engine manufacturer Turbomeca. The new engine will allow the Rudra to fly at altitudes above 20,000 ft.
The Himalayas along the India-China border and in areas along the Pakistan border at places rise to as much as 20,000 feet and beyond. The newly developed Shakti engines will enable the choppers to fly to these heights with a full weapon pay-load.
The importance of the new machines joining the Indian Armed Forces cannot be over emphasised. The current attack helicopters - Russian made MI-25 and MI-35 helicopters cannot fly beyond 12000 feet.
The Rudra is the armed version of the Advanced light helicopter (ALH) that is already in service. The helicopter has integrated sensors, weapons and Electronic Warfare (WEW) suite. The sensors include Infra- Red Imaging, day and night cameras and a laser ranging and designation device.
The helicopter also has advanced missile, radar and laser tracking warning system.
Besides this, to reduce the load on the pilots it has countermeasures like chaff and fare which are dispensed automatically.
Sources told NDTV that the first 60 helicopters will be inducted into the three Strike Corps of the Indian Army, based respectively in Bhopal, Ambala and Mathura and then in formations deployed along the India-China border both in the North-east and Ladakh.
The final plan of the Indian Army is to have a separate brigade of Aviation Corps with each of the 13 Corps of the Indian Army. Each of these Aviation Brigades are expected to have a squadron dedicated to carry out surveillance and reconnaissance, a separate squadron of armed helicopters and third squadron of Light Utility Helicopters for ferrying people and other duties.