The Indian Army Rudra, the in-service advanced armed version of the HAL Dhruv, briefly broke cover today in Ladakh, confirming the indigenous aircraft’s operational deployment amidst border tensions to the high altitude theatre it was always designed for. An Army Aviation Corps Rudra was fleetingly seen in footage from a combat demonstration today in Stakna for visiting Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh.
The Indian Army currently operates over 50 HAL-built Rudras, with more in the pipeline for a total fleet of 78 airframes. The Indian Air Force is also an operator of the aircraft. This isn’t the first time Rudras have been deployed to Ladakh, but today was the first time they were visible amidst tensions between India and China that have simmered since early May.
An Indian Army officer in Ladakh confirmed to Livefist, “Rudra, ALH and Cheetah helicopters from the Indian Army participated in today’s combat drills. The Rudra will have an important role in any engagement at these heights in the future.”
Weaponisation of the Rudra, ironically, remains mired in red tape. While the Rudras still don’t have operational anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and air-to-air missiles (the MBDA Mistral), more airframes were contracted in February last year to receive Thales 2.75-inch (70-mm) 12-tube rocket launchers. Like with earlier airframes, the Thales kit includes rocket launchers as well as fire control capability and the T100 sighting system.
The Rudra’s tryst with the Mistral air-to-air missile is a particularly arresting tale, given the platform has been flying for years with the missile’s launchers but no actual missile. Livefist detailed the Rudra-Mistral saga in this long read last year. It is likely that the current border unrest in Ladakh could push things forward on a weaponisation effort that remains inexplicably stuck and reflects an inexplicably self-defeating thread in Indian defence planning.
An anti-armour weapon also remains elusive, with the Indian MoD so far unable to take a call on arming the Rudra with either the Israeli Spike or German PARS L3. In January 2019, then Indian Army chief (and current Chief of Defence Staff) General Bipin Rawat said the DRDO had been asked to produce rockets and missiles for the Rudra fleet, but that interim weaponisation would be met through imported products. The DRDO Helina continues to be tested on the Rudra, but is yet to be operationalised alongisde a special launcher system called Dhruvastra.
In effect, the only current weapons on the Rudras are its 70mm rockets and a 20mm M621 cannon on a Nexter THL-20 chin-mounted gun turret.
Rudras and U.S.-built AH-64E Apache helicopters have been conducting patrol flights in Ladakh for the last few weeks, the latter much more visibly. Livefist reported last month that the Rudra’s more purpose-built cousin, the HAL Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), is all set to receive its first orders this year. Both types are seen to be highly suited for high altitude operations, given that both have seen extensive trials in that theatre already.