Warplanes: Algeria Customizes Its New Gunships

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April 4, 2016: Algeria recently revealed that the 40 Russian Mi-28NE helicopter gunships ordered in early 2014 will all be built with dual controls. This is apparently so that both crew members can be pilots and fly the aircraft. This would come in handy if the designated pilot is wounded. One crew position will still have the weapons controls. Dual control aircraft are also used for training.

Algeria paid more than $50 million for each gunship, more than the usual price. That is apparently to make allowance for the bribes and payoffs Algeria is so infamous for and the Russians are so understanding about. What probably clinched this sale was the fact that in 2013 Russia began replacing its 250 Mi-24 helicopter gunships with 300 Mi-28s. Russia plans to replace all its 1960s era Mi-24s with the more modern Mi-28s by 2015.

The Mi-28N is a much more complex aircraft than the Mi-24 and requires more skillful and better trained pilots. To deal with this problem the Russian Air Force developed a dual control model early on and the Russian air force ordered 60 of these Mi-28UB helicopter trainers. The UB model has dual controls that enable an instructor to also control the helicopter from the weapons systems operator’s seat. Each squadron will receive 4-6 of the UB model to help build and maintain pilot skills. The Mi-28UB solves the problem of quickly getting new pilots up to speed on how to handle this much more capable gunship. There was no mention of Mi-28UBs in the original Algerian deal but the Algerian pilots will apparently go to Russia for training where they will have access to all the equipment and facilities Russian pilot trainees use. Algeria is a long time user of the Mi-24 and has about 30 in service. Apparently Mi-24 pilots will be trained to handle the Mi-28N, just as many Russian Mi-24 pilots are doing.

The older Mi-24 helicopter gunship has been in service for nearly half a century. It 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" in the 1960s. But rather than adopt the radical redesign seen in 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 was intense competition, to decide which of its two new helicopter gunship designs (the Ka-50 and Mi-28N) to make standard. The Mi-28N is a more capable helicopter, costing about the same as the earlier American AH-64A ($15 million each).

The Mi-28NE "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 an 11.6 ton helicopter that can carry 1.6 tons of rockets and missiles. The aircraft also has a 30mm cannon. The cockpit for the two man crew is 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 (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 since the 1990s and the Mi-28N is the most advanced model, on 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 it for sale until 2004. The fact that the basic Mi-28 has been around for decades and was known to be reliable and effective made it an easy, and safe, choice for the Mi-24 replacement.

 


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