Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) started the design and development of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) in 1984. The ALH was developed for both Airforce/Army versions and separately for the Indian Navy.
The Navy had taken a keen interest in the development of the ALH from the beginning and HAL delivered a small number of ALH Mark I helicopters to it in 2002-03. These were fitted with an autopilot which had all Navy-specific modes. However, HAL could not meet two requirements of the Navy at that time – long-duration hover and blade folding dimensions.
In 2014-15, HAL’s Helicopter Complex proposed to the Navy a version which had a two-segment blade and other modifications to meet its blade-folding requirements. The Navy seemed happy and displayed keen interest, but a firm decision was not made. In the event, HAL, on its own, launched two projects in 2019 with internal funding: (a) ALH Tail boom folding; (b) ALH blade-folding with two-segment main rotor blades.
The Navy’s INAS 322 squadron (Guardians), commissioned in 2013, operates ALH Mark I from INS Garuda in Kochi. According to an Indian Navy official in 2018: “From a flying machine with many issues, she (ALH) has matured by miles…From the role of helicopter training of our pilots, the ALH has definitely progressed in the last five years.”
He further went on to say, “Night flying over sea is considered the Holy Grail of helicopter flying over the sea as it is often fraught with risks and one that requires exceptional skills and courage. Today, India is among the few nations around the world having the ability to undertake SAR (search and rescue) by night.”
The Navy has cleared the Guardians for undertaking night SAR missions. Further, ALH was deployed on a overseas embarkation operation at Abu Dhabi in 2017.