Warplanes: Russian Helicopters Are Back


April 25, 2011: Russia is rebuilding its Cold War era helicopter industry. The first move is putting all Russian helicopter companies into one firm; Russian Helicopters. To accomplish this, the government bought most of the shares in these companies. Thus Russian Helicopters now owns 75 percent of Rostvertol, 72 percent of Mil Moscow, 99.8 percent of Kamov, 60 percent of Stupino Machine Production, 75 percent of Ulan-Ude Aviation, 66 percent of Kazan Helicopters, 100 percent of Kumertau Aviation, 81 percent of Reductor-PM and 75 percent of Progress Arsenyev Aviation. As part of this effort, the Russian military is ordering more helicopters, new designs are being developed and export sales are aggressively pursued. Russian helicopters are back as a powerful international brand.

Total annual production of all these companies had collapsed to less than a hundred helicopters in the 1990s, mostly for export. Four years ago, annual production passed a hundred again, and it continues to grow, but not enough to keep all these firms solvent. Many have been staying alive by producing spare parts and refurbishing older aircraft. Thousands of aircraft produced by these companies are still in service, and they needed spares, upgrades and maintenance services. But now there are more new models coming out, Russian armed forces is buying again, and the export market is booming.

For example, four years ago, Russia decided to replace its 250 Mi-24 helicopter gunships with 300 of the more recent Mi-28s. The Mi-24 is a twelve ton chopper based on the Mi-8/17 transport. The U.S. did the same thing with the AH-1, developing it from the UH-1 "Huey." But rather than adopt the two seater (one pilot behind the other) approach of the AH-1 and AH-64 Apache, the Mi-24 could still carry troops or cargo in the back, and was not as nimble as the AH-1. The 11 ton Mi-28 looks more like the AH-64. That's because, by the end of the 1960s, the Russians realized that the AH-1 design was superior.

For several years, there has been intense completion, to decide which of its two new helicopter gunship designs (the Ka-50 and Mi-28N) to standardize on. The 2007 decision settled the matter. About 50 Mi-28s were bought in the next three years, with all 300 in service within five years.

The Mi-28N is a more capable helicopter, costing about the same as the earlier AH-64A ($15 million each). The Russians know that their weapons sell much better when a rock bottom price is offered. The Mi-28N "Night Hunter" is an all weather; night attack version of the 1980s era Mi-28A, with added FLIR (night vision sensor), night fighting optics and a two man crew. The basic Mi-28 is a 11.6 ton helicopter that can carry 1.6 tons of rockets and missiles. The aircraft also has a 30mm cannon. The cockpits are armored, and the helicopter has missile countermeasures (chaff and flares), GPS, head up display, laser designator and other gadgets. The Mi-28N has a top speed of 300 kilometers an hour and a one way range of 1,100 kilometers. It can carry up to 16 anti-tank missiles (each with a range of up to eight kilometers). The helicopter can also carry 80mm rockets, bombs or fuel for additional range. The Mi-28 has been around in small quantities for two decades, but the Mi-28N is the most advanced model, on a par with the American AH-64D gunship (which is a little lighter.) The first version of the Mi-28N was shown in 1996, although the manufacturer, Mil, wasn't ready to offer for sale until 2004.

Another market niche that Russia has always been strong on is heavy lift models. Thus the Mi-26 Halo, hauling 20 tons only 550 kilometers or 15 tons for 900 kilometers, is being built again. Recently, a new model, the Mi-26T2 made its first flight. Russia has also continued production of the Mi-24, as the export-oriented Mi-35M. This is the Mi-24 with a lot of the electronics, engines and other features of the Mi-28.



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