Russia's latest attack helicopters are chasing export opportunities, in familiar markets
The end of the Cold War spelled disaster for Russia's helicopter industry.
Fledgling programs were left stillborn and starved of development funds as the new Russia tried to slip the anchors of socialism. The small number of orders that did arise were pursued by two factories in Ulan-Ude and Kazan, buildingMi-8/17 transport helicopters. As both plants competed to produce aircraft, the result was cutthroat pricing which starved them of funds to carry out urgently needed research and development for new products.
But the birth of theconsortium in 2007 and the Russian government's desire to transform its military into a leaner, more agile force has given the country's helicopter industry the shot in the arm it has long needed. Programs that had been little more than prototypes for more than a decade are finally beginning to see the light of day, entering production and operational service.
Both the Mil Mi-28 “Havoc” Night Hunter and the Ka-52 “Hokum” or Alligator attack helicopters were once stagnant programs, but are now maturing into service and being offered for export as Russia tries to win back helicopter markets it once held firmly with sales of the Hip and the Hind. These markets have been hit hard by sales of Western types such as theAH-64 Apache.
Like the country's helicopter industry, Russia's armed forces were also in the grip of obsolescence, with aging types dominating the inventory. However, the new wave of renewal means that by 2020 the Russian military services will be equipped with around 1,000 new-build helicopters.
The Ka-52 and Mi-28 are linchpins of this modernization, but the choice to integrate both surprised many observers who thought that there would only be room for one attack helicopter in the future inventory. But senior commanders point out that the complex and heavily armed Mi-28 is more suited for operations west of the Urals, while the Ka-52 with its unique co-axial configuration and robustness may be more appropriate for the more remote regions of the country. Back in the 1990s, commanders selected the Ka-50—the Ka-52's single-seat predecessor—as the country's primary attack helo, but it did not enter service in significant numbers. A decade later officials reexamined this option, and the Mi-28 was revived.
With increasing numbers now joining the Russian air force, the Mi-28 is enjoying significant interest from export customers. Russian Helicopters, and Russian weapons export ompany Rosoboronexport are optimistic that the type could replace some of the sizable fleet of Mi-24 and Mi-35 Hinds which remain in service today.
Although trumped by the Apache to meet India's attack helicopter requirement, the aircraft already has its first export customer. Reports from Russia suggest that Iraq will be the Mi-28's next customer, with an order for 10 linked to a $4.3 billion arms transfer agreement signed in 2012. Reports that the type in service with the armed forces of Kenya have been denied by the manufacturer.
A conventional design, the aircraft uses the tandem seating arrangement used by Western attack helicopters, with targeting sensors arrayed around the nose. So far the Russian air force has ordered around 100 examples of the Mi-28N, which are being flown in a basic configuration. Eventually the aircraft are expected to receive mast-mounted radar, similar in capability to the Longbow radar fitted to the Apache, although no production aircraft are fitted with this system yet. A training version, dubbed the Mi-28UB recently made its first flight and will debut at the MAKS 2013 air show.
With exports of the Mi-28 underway, Russian Helicopters is keen to achieve similar success for the co-axial Ka-52, using the Paris air show to demonstrate the type's capabilities during its Western debut. Sergei Mikheev, chief designer at theDesign Bureau said the company was willing to integrate Western weaponry. The aircraft was displayed with MBDA-made weapons including the PARS 3LR, which has been down-selected as a possible weapon for Indian attack helicopters. Typical armament for the land-based aircraft includes the Russian-made 9K121 Vikhr and 9M120 Ataka-V anti-tank missiles, the Igla-S air-to-air missile and a 30-mm cannon.
Mikheev says he is confident about export opportunities for the rotorcraft in India despite the fact that the country has already selected the AH-64. A naval version of the Ka-52—the Ka-52K—is also being produced in preparation for Russia's purchase of the French-designed Mistral helicopter carrier. These aircraft will be given anti-corrosion treatments and a folding main rotor head to prepare for a life at sea. The Ka-52K will also carry a different suite of weapons, although Mikheev would not say which weapons. It is also unclear when the first Ka-52K would fly, although at Paris Mikheev said the aircraft would be ready for the arrival of the first Mistral, expected in 2014. The type will be embarked alongside the Kamov Ka-27 and Ka-29 naval and utility co-axial helicopter types.