As HAL sets its sights on the Future Vertical Lift program under Project Lakshya, it marks a significant milestone in India’s aerospace industry. This strategic move follows the initiation of the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) project, a testament to HAL’s commitment to modernizing the Indian Air Force and Indian Army. With the formidable task of replacing nearly 400 aging Russian-supplied Mi-17-I Medium Class Helicopters over the next two decades, HAL’s dedication to enhancing India’s defense capabilities shines brightly on the horizon. The IMRH, a 13-ton technological marvel, is poised to become a cornerstone of India’s military aviation prowess, setting the stage for a future of advanced vertical lift capabilities.
Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH)
In the late 2000s, HAL had invited bids from major global rotorcraft manufacturers to co-develop a medium-lift helicopter and was in talks with Eurocopter and Mil Helicopters. Later, with the success of ALH, HAL became confident and decided to go it alone. The Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH) is a medium-lift 13-tonne helicopter under development by HAL for the Indian Armed Forces for air assault, air-attack, anti-submarine, anti-surface, military transport, and VIP transport roles. It is meant to replace all the current Mil Mi-17 and Mil Mi-8 helicopters serving in the Indian Armed Forces.
The IMRH will be powered by two engines with a five-blade main rotor and four-blade tail-rotor. The helicopter is being designed keeping in mind the global competitors in this range such as the Sikorsky S-92, Agusta Westland AW-101, NH Industries NH-90, Eurocopter EC-725, and Mil Mi-17. The aircraft will have a modular construction approach to save time and distribute tasks to various Indian vendors. Composites will be used extensively to reduce weight. The IAF is looking at the capability to carry 24 to 36 seated troops or a load of 4,500kg. The IA too wants to acquire these, but this aspect is still under deliberation. There will be a naval variant as well. The maximum speed will be close to 300kmph, a range of 800km, and a service ceiling of 6,700m. It will have a glass cockpit, modern avionics, and a crash-worthy landing gear. It will be the most spacious helicopter in its category that will have four hard-points to carry weapons. The total weapon-carrying capacity will be 1,600kg. It will be able to carry 1,000kg at a four-kilometer altitude, the best by any aircraft in its class. The craft will have an EW and self-protection suite.
The naval version will have anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare roles and include a sonar and sea-scanner radar with a customized cockpit. It will have a longer range, higher payload capacity, and foldable rotors. The Indian Armed Forces would initially require around 350 helicopters and in the long run, the figure could go up to 550. The scaled model tests of the helicopter have been ongoing since 2021. By March 2022, HAL completed preliminary design work and is ready for prototype development. The first-flight of the prototype is expected in 2025-26. Six prototypes are planned for trials before production, and its entry into service would be closer to 2030. The IMRH will be manufactured at HAL’s new factory in Tumkur. The engines will be designed and manufactured by HAL-Safran joint venture.
While the Future Vertical Lift program’s exact timeline remains shrouded in uncertainty, there’s an air of anticipation within the aerospace community. Insiders have hinted at potential optimizations for the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) design, a development that could propel India’s vertical lift capabilities to new heights. Among the intriguing possibilities is the incorporation of two counter-rotating rigid blades rotating in opposite directions, complemented by a rear pusher prop—an innovation that promises enhanced performance and versatility. HAL’s Future Vertical Lift program, slated to follow the IMRH initiative, remains in its nascent stages, but the prospects are captivating. With an induction target set for 2040, post-2030 promises to be a time of transformative advancement in India’s vertical lift capabilities, ensuring a future where the skies are no limit to the nation’s aspirations.