Procurement: China Rules For Russian Choppers


p> May 17, 2008:  Russia has made a deal with China to allow a Chinese factory to assemble Mi-171 helicopters from Russian supplied parts. This model is nicknamed "The Terminator. " It is based on the 1975 Mi-17, and is the export version of similar Mi-8, but configured as a gunship and transport. Weighing about 12 tons, and carrying a four ton load, the Mi-171 has a range of 590 kilometers at a cruising speed of 250 kilometers per hour. There is a crew of three, and as many passengers as can be squeezed in (about 40 people, but usually just 20 or so.) A sling underneath can also carry up to four tons. The crew areas are protected (against bullets and shell fragments) by armor. The Terminator normally carries machine-gun, rockets and bombs, and is also wired for using eight 9M114 (Spiral) air to surface missiles, or air-to-air missiles. There is a targeting radar up front. Avionics are often Western, which makes it an easier sell to foreign nations. Several hundred have been exported, to customers like Algeria and Iran. The helicopter is rugged, inexpensive ($4-5 million each) and better suited for less affluent nations. Development of this model was completed in 1998 and Russia has been pushing sales hard.


The deal with the Chinese calls for 20 to be assembled this year, with an eventual capacity for 80 a year. China can export these Mi-171s, and already has orders from Pakistan and at least one African nation. While this will compete with Russian sales of the helicopter, the companies making Mi-171 components want a big increase in sales overall. Last year, Russian helicopter manufacturers had orders for 150 Mi-171s. This is old technology, and the Russians believe they can make more money producing components, and letting the Chinese do the assembly. Chinese manufacturing technology is uneven, with expertise in some areas, and little in others. This is largely because of the shortage of trained technicians, engineers and managers. Russia has an edge here, even with the older tech found in the Mi-171.