The Russian Helicopter Corporation has introduced an improved version of its Mi-171Sh assault transport helicopter; the 13.5 ton Mi-171Sh-VN. This new version is for special operations troops and has improved electronics and weapons installed. The Mi-171Sh-VN can carry up to 36 passengers or four tons of cargo (either internally or externally using a sling) and comes equipped to easily add different weapons. A 23mm autocannon, as well as guided missiles or unguided rockets, is “standard”. The VN model comes with weapons installed (including mounts for two 12.7mm machine-guns, one at each side door, and is equipped to fly in all weather during the day and, if the pilots are equipped with and trained to use night vision equipment, at night as well. There is also a new digital flight control system including autopilot. The digital fire control system includes vidcam bases day/night sensors. The passenger and crew seats are shock absorbing for additional protection during hard landings. The VN model has a DIRCM (direct infrared countermeasures) system which spots and defeats heat-seeking missiles launched from the ground.
Additional lightweight armor to vital areas has been added, based on combat experience in Syria. This includes attachments for adding even more Kevlar panels to the cargo compartment. The engines that are particularly effective under "hot and high" conditions and the VN models has modifications to mask the heat signature and improve lift to handle the higher weight of the VN model. The basic Mi-171 used for the Sh models is the E version which is strictly a transport. Russia sold about 130 of the Sh model since it was introduced in 2002, mostly to foreign customers who tended to use them for their special operations forces. Sales are expected to be better for the VN model because of the combat experience and many changes made with the help of feedback from Russian and foreign special operations troops. Production models of the Mi-171Sh-VN will be available for delivery in early 2019. Apparently one or more of the prototypes saw some action in Syria.
The M-171 is basically an inexpensive, easy to use and rugged transport helicopter. But it belongs to a family of helicopters that has long been modified to carry weapons or any other specialized gear. Some of the Mi-171s are even being equipped with radars and other sensors, to be used for reconnaissance and surveillance.
The basic Mi-171 is based on the 1970s era Mi-17, and is the export version of the Russian Mi-8AMT military 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 (up to 40 people, but usually 20-30.) A sling underneath can also carry up to four tons.
Over 500 Mi-171s have been exported by Russia. The helicopter is rugged, inexpensive ($4-5 million each) and better suited for less affluent nations, despite a higher accident rate. Development of this model was completed in 1998 and Russia has been pushing sales hard. Users have been satisfied. The Sh and Sh VN models are more expensive because of the additional electronics and protection. The VN is expected to sell for as much as $20 million each (with all options). The Mi-171Sh-VN is direct competition for the American MH-60M, an 11 ton helicopter used by SOCOM (Special Operations Command) since the 1990s (and regularly upgraded.)