Eight months ago Russia believed it had landed a new big customer. Iraq had agreed to buy over $4 billion worth of Russian arms. Recently Russia announced that it had received the first payments and had ordered manufacturing to begin on the aircraft and missile systems included in the deal. But in Iraq anti-corruption investigators (and their supporters in parliament) warn that the Russian deal might still be dead. That’s because a chunk of that $4 billion was given back to Iraqi officials as bribes to get the deal approved. This is pretty normal in Iraq but increasingly under attack by those advocating clean government, or political opponents of those who got the bribes.
Among the systems included in the deal are 30 Mi-28NE attack helicopters and up to fifty Pantsir-S1 (SA-22) mobile anti-aircraft systems. The helicopters take a while to manufacture which was why Russia waited until a down payment arrived before getting started.
The Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft system entered service four years ago, after more than a decade in development. Pantsir-S1 Development began in the 1990s, but was sporadic for nearly a decade because there was no money. Meanwhile, several Arab nations have been persuaded to order over 200 Pantsir-S1 vehicles. This encouraged Iraq. Pantsir-S1 is a mobile system, each vehicle carries radar, two 30mm cannon, and twelve Tunguska missiles. The 90 kg (198 pound) missiles have a twenty kilometer range, the radar a 30 kilometer range. The missile can hit targets at up to 8,400 meters (26,000 feet). The 30mm cannon is effective up to 3,200 meters (10,000 feet). The vehicle can vary but the most common one carrying all this weighs 20 tons and has a crew of three. Each Pantsir-S1 vehicle costs about $15 million.
Russia is replacing 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 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-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. 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 for two decades 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 Russians are also pushing their large line of armored vehicles and artillery systems. Russia has a good reputation with these and the prices are attractive. Another appealing Russian custom is a more comfortable attitude towards bribes, which Iraqi officials are quite fond of. Dealing with American supplies can often be a problem when it comes to helping Iraqi officials skim some of the sales price. The Russians believe that the Americans, angry at losing sales to Russia, are behind all this corruption nonsense.