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Over 400 indigenous Dhruv and its variant helicopters built since 2002, but at least 23 crashed

New Delhi: The tragic crash of a weaponised Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), known as the Rudra, in Arunachal Pradesh Friday, killing at least four, has once again brought to focus the series of crashes of the indigenous helicopter, which is the backbone of the Indian Army.

The Army has instituted a court of inquiry in the crash which took place near the Tuting area in Arunachal Pradesh’s Upper Siang district around 10:43 am Friday, killing at least four of the five personnel on board.

In a statement issued Saturday, the Army said that the weather was good and both the pilots had more than 600 combined flying hours on the Rudra and over 1,800 flying hours between them.

It added that “prior to the crash, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) had received a MAY DAY call suggesting a technical or mechanical failure” in the helicopter which was inducted in 2015.

The Army said this will form the focus of the court of inquiry.

The accident brings to mind the deadly crash in 2019 of an ALH Dhruv, in which Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, who was the Northern Army commander at that time, had a miraculous escape after the chopper carrying him and seven others crash-landed in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch region.

While the findings of the court of inquiry into that crash is not public, sources in the defence establishment said that the crash happened after the “collective”, which controls the power to the rotors and back, broke.

This, the sources said, was a manufacturing defect.

Also readReduced payload, tandem flying among likely changes to VVIP chopper protocols after CDS crash

Army, IAF operate about 90 Rudras

The advanced chopper, indigenously designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), is a “twin-engine, multi-role, multi-mission new generation helicopter in the 5.5-ton weight class” and is seen as the workhorse of the Army.

Inducted in 2002, over 400 of the helicopter — the latest version of which is the Mk-III — have been built by HAL including its weaponised version known as ALH Rudra.

According to HAL, as of January this year, more than 335 Dhruvs have been produced, logging around 3,40,000 cumulative flying hours. The Army and IAF operate about 90 Rudras in total, which were inducted in 2013.

However, at least 23 of Dhruv/Rudra have met with accidents which have claimed the lives of several personnel on board, besides making scores of emergency landings.

What is of concern is that all accidents have taken place in peace time and not in any actual combat scenarios.

Asked about the Arunachal crash, Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd) said that the MAY DAY call and the statement released by the Army indicates that “something catastrophic has happened to the helicopter”.

“There have been a few earlier cases where the ALH Dhruvs have crashed. It is imperative that the HAL and the Service Headquarters take a holistic view to remove any technical/manufacturing anomalies that may be occurring,” he said.

16 Dhruv accidents since 2002

While sources in the defence establishment agreed that there are several servicing challenges to the helicopter, they termed the ALHs as “dependable”.

In 2016, the government had said that there have been sixteen accidents involving Dhruv since 2002. Of the accidents, two were of civilian variants and five took place in Ecuador, which had procured seven of them.

The then Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh had said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha that “out of 16 accidents, 12 occurred due to human error and environmental factors and the remaining four occurred due to technical reasons”.

In December last year, the government said there had been 15 military chopper accidents since march 2017, which included four Dhruvs and two Rudras.

The helicopter has seen multiple emergency landings including one last year with two 3-star officers on board in Gujarat’s Kheda district.

The certification of the utility military variant Dhruv was completed in 2002 and that of the civil variant was completed in 2004.

Based on the ALH Dhruv, the state-owned aerospace major HAL has now come up with the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH).

Also read: Army wives group writes to Modi over chopper crash, replacements approved but delayed

Source: The Print

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