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Gunships Over The Amazon
by James Dunnigan
May 3, 2011

Brazil has received and put into service six of the dozen Russian Mi-35M helicopter gunships it ordered three years ago. Renamed the AH-2, the Russian gunships are used to patrol the vast river network of the interior, mainly the Amazon and its tributaries. This work mainly involves going after drug smugglers (afloat, on land or in the air.) The Mi-35, with a top speed of 335 kilometers an hour, and two hour endurance, is well equipped for this work. The only weapon usually carried is the 23mm machine-gun. This is generally sufficient for whatever the aircraft might encounter in, or above, the jungle.

The Mi-35 was bought after evaluating three candidates, the two losers being the Italian A129 and the European Tiger. The Mi-35M is the export version of the most recent (the most widely produced) model of the Mi-24V gunship. Brazil is paying $12.5 million each for aircraft that are armed with a twin barrel 23mm autocannon. Missiles and rocket pods can be attached to the stubby wings.

The Mi-24/35 is a twelve ton helicopter gunship that also has a cargo area that can hold up to eight people, or four stretchers. The Mi-24/35 is used by over thirty countries, and has a pretty good reputation for reliability. Despite the tropical conditions in central Brazil, the Mi-35Ms are available for action 70 percent of the time. The design is based on the earlier Mi-8 transport helicopter. Thus the export model, the Mi-17, is also a 12 ton helicopter, but without all the gunship stuff. It can carry 2.6 tons of cargo, or up to 24 troops.

Saudi Arabia has also bought 150 Mi-35Ms, paying about $20 million per helicopter, which is on the high end for these models. The Saudi helicopters came with all available accessories, maintenance contracts and the like, plus the usual bribes. Brazil hasn't got as much money to spend, and has been cracking down on the military related bribery of late. Brazil will receive the rest of its Mi-35Ms within a year. Neighboring Peru has also received two Mi-35s.

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