Russia is very satisfied with the combat performance of its new generation of armed helicopters. That’s because these new helicopters are performing well in Iraq, where they are not being flown by Russians but by Iraqis. This is a big deal because Russia needs export sales and evidence that locals can handle this new tech in combat is a big selling point.
By mid-2016 Russia had delivered 17 Mi-28NE and 16 Mi-35M helicopter gunships to Iraq with about twenty more to come. Iraq has praised the performance of the gunships as well as the prompt delivery. All this began in mid-2014 when Iraq, under heavy attack by ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), needed more helicopters and needed them fast. Russia stepped up and promised rapid delivery of military equipment. Russia delivered on that promise and by early November had delivered 12 of 28 Mi-35M armed transport helicopters and three of fifteen Mi-28NE helicopter gunships. Some self-propelled rocket launchers were also sent early. Less urgently needed, but delivered early anyway, were some twin launchers for SA-16/18 anti-aircraft missiles (which were also delivered) and several of the Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft vehicles.
All this is part of a large order that was originally expected to take several years to deliver. In late 2012 Iraq agreed to buy $4.2 billion worth of Russian weapons and military equipment. The deal was later cancelled for several months because of corruption allegations but by early 2013 the deal was back on and that some of the major items, like 30 Mi-28NE attack helicopters and up to fifty Pantsir-S1 (SA-22) mobile anti-aircraft systems will be delivered before the end of 2013. Iraq favors Russian equipment for several reasons. There is the obvious one that the Russians are “corruption friendly”. But Iraq has been using Russian weapons for decades and there are many Iraqis familiar with it. Most importantly Russian gear is simple to use and more tolerant of poor maintenance. While Western gear is safer to use and more reliable, it is also more expensive and requires more skilled operators and maintainers.
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 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. Sorties usually last two hours or so. 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 but 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 for sale until 2004.
The Mi-35 is the export version of the most recent version of the Mi-24 helicopter gunship. This 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 can carry rockets, missiles bombs, and automatic cannon. It is used by over thirty countries and has a pretty good reputation for reliability. The design is based on the earlier Mi-8 transport helicopter.
Iraq got the Mi-28NEs into action by early 2015 and was soon ordering more.