February 18, 2015:
Pakistan has agreed to go through with a Russian offer to sell it Mi-35 helicopter gunships. This is the export version of the most recent upgrade of the Mi-24. Back in November Russia agreed to sell Pakistan up to twenty Mi-35s. The recent Pakistani decision to go through with the purchase did not mention quantity.
The Mi-35 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 1960s era Mi-8 transport helicopter.
The quantity of Mi-35s to be obtained by Pakistan may be related to the army calling for all the helicopter gunships it can get, as these aircraft have proved a key weapon in the battles against Islamic terrorists in the tribal territories. The government, however is short of cash at the moment. The Russians are not known for offering generous credit terms like they did in the Cold War, but deals can be made if the long term benefit is attractive enough.
For several years Pakistan has been seeking more helicopter gunships, in particular it wanted some new helicopters rather than used stuff to supplement, and replace the 35 American AH-1S and AH-1F gunships it already has. Over ten percent of these have been lost in the last few years in the tribal territories where helicopter gunships are badly needed, heavily used and frequently shot at. Second-hand gunships are what the government has been used to paying for. There may still be some uncertainty over the price for the Mi-35s and Russia may heavily discount the price on the first batch, just to get Pakistan addicted. .
For years Pakistan tried to obtain the 6.6 ton AH-1W model from the United States. This would have been a major upgrade for the Pakistani helicopter gunship force. Developed by the U.S. Marine Corps the W model was configured for naval use, and has two engines and protection against sea water corrosion. Like the AH-1F model used by Pakistan, the AH-1W has a crew of two and is armed with a 20mm, 3 barrel, autocannon (with 750 rounds) and can carry eight TOW missiles or 38 70mm unguided rockets. Typical sorties last about three hours (twice that of the AH-1F). The Pakistanis are also equipping their gunships with night vision (thermal imaging) equipment.
The U.S. refused to supply Pakistan with the W model or any other modern versions. This included the more recent AH-1Z. That was because the U.S. wanted Pakistan to be more cooperative in dealing with Islamic terrorism. The Pakistanis repeatedly refused and have pretty much given up on getting more AH-1s from the United States. Meanwhile Pakistan sought other helicopter gunships from China (WZ-10), Turkey (T-129) as well as heavily armed commercial helicopters equipped with electronics similar to those used on gunships. None of these other options seemed to be working until Russia came through with the Mi-35s. Part of the problem is that Pakistan has little cash to spend on new or used helicopter gunships and is hoping for a gift, or big discount from someone. There’s not a lot of that around for Pakistan, which provides sanctuary to Islamic terrorists who are hostile to all the nations that could provide new helicopters.
The Russian offer to sell Pakistan weapons came as a surprise. That’s because India has long been the largest export customer for Russian weapons. But India is becoming disillusioned with Russia as a weapons supplier. Late deliveries, quality problems and inadequate support are all complaints that India finds Russia has no solutions for. So Russia apparently feels free to sell to India’s archenemy Pakistan. After all, Russia has long been the major weapons supplier to the other Indian archenemy; China.