The Indian Army is set to get 22 HAL Cheetal utility helicopters after defence officials approved purchase plans on 18 December 2012.
The HAL Cheetal is an upgraded version of the HAL Cheetah, itself a licence-built version of the Aerospatiale SA 316B Lama, originally a French design.
The HAL Cheetal boasts the Turbomeca TM333-2M2 turboshaft engine, as also used in the HAL Dhruv helicopter. Lighter than its predecessor, this engine delivers better fuel consumption rates and gives this helicopter additional endurance, range and payload-carrying abilities.
Upgraded HAL Cheetal
With these extra capabilities, the Cheetal is optimised to operate in India's warm climate and especially in high-altitude areas where the air's thinner and overall performance would otherwise be affected. Also featured in the upgraded HAL Cheetals are advanced new cockpit systems.
According to manufacturer HAL, the Cheetah - on which the Cheetal is based - boasts a simple but rugged construction, is highly agile and versatile and can undertake a number of specialised roles under its ‘utility' umbrella, including surveillance, search and rescue and crop-spraying. It can accommodate up to five Indian Army service personnel, has a maximum speed of 210 kilometres per hour and a range of 560 kilometres.
Indian Army Cheetal Helicopters
The Indian Army Cheetal helicopters will be obtained as stop-gap measures, pending the arrival of its LUH (Light Utility Helicopters) in years ahead. No less than 197 Light Utility Helicopters are ultimately set to enter Indian Armed Forces' service, with the Army getting the lion's share of 133. Two helicopter manufacturers are presently involved in the Light Utility Helicopter competition: Eurocopter and Russia's Kamov.
The Indian Army's present-day helicopter fleet consists of a mixture of indigenous and licence-built designs. Indian-origin HAL Dhruvs serve in the attack and utility roles, while licence-built HAL Chetaks and Cheetahs carry out utility missions and Russian Mil-17V Hips are its key transporters. These are set to be supplemented by HAL Light Combat Helicopters and HAL Rudra Attack Helicopters in coming months.
In less positive news, it emerged earlier this month that there have been no less than 54 Indian military aircraft and helicopter crashes recorded since 2009: a pretty unfavourable record. More recently, it's been reported that anti-collision systems will now be a priority in all future Indian aircraft acquisitions.
HAL Cheetal image copyright Vikramaadityasumbria - Courtesy Wikimedia Commons