The programme for developing the three-tonne helicopter is in the 'design freeze' stage after consultations with the armed forces headquarters, including the Army and Air Force. The machine is expected to be ready by 2015.
"The LUH programme is progressing well and the project has achieved 'design freeze', following the concurrence from armed forces headquarters. The first ground test vehicle is being readied for factory tests," Hindustan Aeronautics Limited officials said here.
The single-engine chopper would be powered by a French engine, which has been chosen by the country's only aerospace company through a tendering process.
Asked whether they would be able to meet the scheduled timeline of 2015, HAL officials said, "We are confident about adhering to the timeline specified by the government." The need for developing an indigenous light chopper was felt by HAL, soon after Kargil War where Indian and Pakistani troops were engaged in a limited conflict for over 40 days at altitudes of above 10,000 feet.
Earlier, the plan was to supply 384 light choppers to the Army and IAF of which 197 were to be procured from foreign vendors, while the remaining were to be produced by HAL. But, at the moment, the plan to procure 197 choppers from abroad is stuck due to various reasons.
The first tender to procure the choppers was scrapped by Defence Minister AK Antony after some wrongdoing was detected in them. The second tender has been stuck for over a year now after the government ordered a CBI probe into allegations that a Brigadier had sought a bribe of around Rs 25 crore for helping a particular vendor in the case. These choppers are mainly deployed in high-altitude areas in Ladakh to provide supplies to Indian troops deployed there at heights of between 10,000-23,000 feet.