Procurement: Russian Helicopters Are Back

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March 26, 2014: Russian Helicopters, the company that now handles all helicopter manufacturing in Russia recently announced that it had a record year in 2013, with sales up ten percent over 2012. This was no accident. Since 2010 Russia has been rebuilding its Cold War era helicopter industry. The first move was 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. By 2007 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, the Russian armed forces is buying heavily again and the export market is booming.

For example, in 2007 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" back in the 1980s. 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.

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. In 2011 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.

At the same time (2013) Russia Helicopters announced that it had sold some Mi-17 helicopters to Cameroon. This was a big deal because it was the first sale of Russian military equipment to Cameroon. Russia sees this as a trend as it seeks to revive Cold War era markets in sub-Saharan Africa. All that disappeared with the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union in 1991. After that the new country of Russia (half the population of the Soviet Union) could no longer offer attractive financing terms, and many Soviet era customers saw Russian gear as second rate and switched to Western suppliers. But Russia persevered. Russia eventually provided better after market support for Soviet era equipment than the Soviets ever did and were quick to supply Mi-17s and Russian pilots for UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. East European contractors also established a good reputation with their leased Mi-17s and contract pilots. All this paved the way for the return of Russian aircraft salesmen and now, actual sales.

Russian Helicopters sales efforts have paid off. By the end of 2013 they had a backlog of 808 helicopters and total deliveries for 2013 were 275 helicopters. This included nine different models sold to ten different countries.

 

 


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