Self-sufficiency, particularly in the defense manufacturing industry, has become a trend in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war that broke out earlier this year, and among the nations stepping up their game are India and South Korea. Both countries are well-rounded Asian economic players that have not only remarkably grown in the last decade but also have advanced in terms of embarking on technology design and development.
New Delhi and Seoul have successfully advanced their respective domestic defense manufacturing capabilities, achieving self-sufficiency while positioning themselves as rookie bidders in the global export market—the latest being the bid for the Malaysian Light Attack Fighter contract. Both countries had submitted their entries for the multi-billion-ringgit deal along with China, Italy, Turkey, and Russia.
South Korea has a slight advantage over India in the production of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), thanks to the success of its indigenous FA-50 LCA in snatching international contracts since the mid-to-late 2000s, whereas the latter, a new player with the introduction of its Tejas LCA in the global market in the early 2020s.
Another arms deal these Asian giants might potentially be contending against is the exportation of their respective Light Armed Helicopters (LAHs), starting with South Korea’s LAH. According to Yonhap News Agency, Seoul recently “approved a 5.75 trillion-won (US$4.3 billion) plan” to fund its domestically-made LAH’s mass production in the coming months until 2031 “as part of efforts to replace the military’s aging fleet of 500MD and AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters.”
India, on the other hand, formally inducted its homegrown LAH into its Air Force last month and has been lauded for accomplishing a historic feat. Dubbed the Prachand (“fierce”), the light combat helicopter (LCH) is so far the world’s only LCH that can land and take off at an altitude of 5,000 meters (16,400 ft).
However, unlike the FA-50 LCA, the South Korean LAH will not be deployed until at least late 2024, giving India an advantage in the export game for light-armed choppers. In 2018, India was reportedly in talks with unidentified African countries about a possible Prachand deal, but there was no follow-up news to confirm whether or not the sale went through.
KAI LAH vs HAL Prachand LCH
Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) developed the twin-engine light-attack chopper based on the Eurocopter EC155, a long-range medium-lift civilian utility helicopter, sometime in the mid-2010s, with the prototype marking its maiden flight in 2019. The soon-to-be manufactured helicopter can perform various mission roles, including reconnaissance missions, light attack, close air support, escort, and troop transport, which is currently being conducted by its aging MD500 Defender and AH-1S Cobra helicopters.
Unlike the civil variant, the LAH has a redesigned cockpit and rotor blades, as well as an improved gearbox and survivability equipment. Moreover, it can transport up to ten fully-equipped troops and carry various new armaments, including a single chin-mounted 20mm M197 electronic turret gun, air-to-surface anti-tank missiles, and non-guided rockets. For its avionics, the KIA LAH is fitted with “a nose-mounted electro-optic/infrared sensor package, an integrated target acquisition/designation system, and a self-protection/electronic warfare suite, which includes a radar warning receiver (RWR), laser warning receiver (LWR), MWR, and chaff/flare dispensers.” According to earlier reports, it also features a self-protection system to bolster itself and its crew against man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), while a precision navigation system has a resistant capability that will bypass hostile GPS jamming.
It measures around 14.6 m (47.9 ft) in length, 4.35 m (14 ft 3 in) in height, and has a maximum take-off weight capacity of 4920 kg (10,847 lb). KIA LAH is powered by two HAS-Arriel 2L2 turboshaft engines with a full take-off power of about 1,024 shp and reaches a top speed of 243 km/h (151 m/h, 131 kn) within an 857 km (533 mi, 463 nmi) range.
Meanwhile, the Prachand LCH transpired after the brief yet intense confrontation between India and Pakistan, also known as the Kargil War, in the late 1990s. Taking note of its shortcomings during the skirmishes, Indian aerospace manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) designed the multi-role, light-attack chopper reminiscent of an earlier indigenous utility helicopter, the Dhruv. The Prachand flew for the first time in early 2010 after several years of design and development, and it was declared ready for mass production in early 2020.
The Indian LCH can perform various missions, particularly at relatively high altitudes, such as air defense, anti-infantry and anti-armor missions, escort and transportation, and search and rescue operations. It features “a relatively narrow fuselage, and is equipped with stealth profiling, armor protection, as well as fitted to execute day-and-night combat operations” as part of its basic configuration.
Primarily serving as an air defense, the Prachand can also perform traditional combat helicopter roles such as Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) and anti-tank and anti-infantry operations. The glass cockpit of the Indian-made helicopter is equipped with an Integrated Avionics and Display System (IADS) and has extensive electronic warfare gear, including a radar warning receiver (RWR), laser warning receiver (LWR), and a missile approach warning (MAW) system, for protection against different external threats.
It measures around 15.8 m (51 ft 10 in) in length, 4.70 m (15 ft 5 in) in height, and has a maximum take-off weight capacity of 5,800 kg (12,787 lb) with two HAL Shakti-1H1 engines, each generating around 1,000–1,500 kW (1,400–2,000 shp). Moreover, the maximum speed of the helicopter can reach up to 268 km/h (167 mph, 145 kn) within a 550 km (340 mi, 300 nmi) range for more than three hours of operation. For armaments, Prachand is armed with a 20mm M621 turret gun, laser-guided rockets, air-to-air missiles, and various types of bombs.
Each LCH has its own strengths and weakness, considering that each was designed to counter different military operations—with South Korea addressing threats of its rival North Korea’s tanks, while India is more on surveillance and air defense against potential security intimidation from Pakistan and other hostile neighbors.