Live Target Practice in Syria

Defense Ministry to Take Delivery of 24 “Flying Tanks” for Testing in Syria
Inna Sidorkova
RBC
October 19, 2017

In November, the Russian Defense Ministry will receive the first batch of improved Night Hunter helicopters from Russian Helicopters. The new choppers will cost the Defense Ministry at least 400 million USD. The helicopters should alter aviation tactics in Syria. 

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Russian Night Hunter combat helicopter. Photo courtesy of Russian Helicopters/RBC

For Syria
By 2020, the Defense Ministry will take delivery of twenty-four modernized Night Hunter Mi-28UB combat training helicopters, Andrei Boginsky, general director of Russian Helicopters, a subsidiary of state corporation Rostek, told RBC. He stressed the Mi-28UB was designed with its future use in Syria in mind.

The first batch of helicopters—up to ten units—will be delivered to the Defense Ministry in November of this year. Two choppers will be delivered to the 334th Center for Combat Training and Army Flight Crew Retraining in Torzhok, Vadim Barannikov, deputy manager of Russian Helicopters Rosvertol plant, told journalists on October 19.

“Currently, the Defense Ministry is the Mi-28UB’s only buyer. However, similarly configured Mi-28-like helicopters will be delivered to foreign customers,” said Boginsky.

He added that the coming online of the chopper’s combat training version opened up “practically unlimited” opportunities for improving the training of Mi-28N pilots.

“The chance to train on a real combat helicopter, rather than on a simulator, is a huge advantage for our combat pilots in comparison with their counterparts from other countries,” said Boginsky.

Boginsky declined to tell RBC the cost of the contract with the Defense Ministry and the price of a single helicopter. However, as two of RBC’s sources in the aviation industry noted, the cost of the Mi-28UB would be a “little higher” than the basic model due to the improved design and other features. According to AircraftCompare.com, a website specializing in collecting and analyzing information on aviation equipment, the cost of the Mi-28N ranges from 16.8 million USD to 18 million USD. The sum of the contract with the Defense Ministry for delivery of the helicopters should be at least 400 million USD.

The delivery of twenty-four Mi-28 combat training helicopters is Russian Helicopters biggest contract with the Defense Ministry since 2015, the company’s press service told RBC. For the first time in history, the Russian army will get its hands on combat training helicopters with dual piloting systems.

The Mi-28UB
The design of the Mi-28 combat training helicopter, the improved Night Hunter, is based on the Mi-28N night attack helicopter, which was added to the army’s arsenal by presidential decree in 2009. Its maximum speed is 300 kilometers/hour, its dynamic ceiling, 5.6 kilometers, and its takeoff weight, nearly 11,000 kilograms. The Mi-28UB is armed with Ataka-V air-to-surface and Strelets air-to-air guided missile systems, a nonremovable mobile 30mm automatic cannon, and B-8V20A mounts for C-98 80mm caliber rockets and C-13 130mm caliber rockets.

The main difference between the Mi-28UB and the Mi-28N is the dual piloting system, as RBC was informed by Russian Helicopters press service. The chopper can be piloted both from the commander’s cockpit and the system operator pilot’s cockpit, which expands its capacity for training combat pilots. In addition, during emergency combat circumstances, control of the helicopter can be assumed by the second crew member. The helicopter is also outfitted with a simulator for training student pilots to deal with in-flight equipment failure.

The Mi-28UB is outfitted with modernized integrated onboard radioelectronic equipment. The cockpit has been expanded, the area covered by armored glass has been increased, and visibility from the system operator pilot’s cockpit has been improved. The Mi-28UB has an automatic landing system. A state-of-the-art laser defense station has been installed onboard to defend the helicopter from heat-seeking missiles.

Why a “Flying Tank” Is Needed
The Mi-28UB has been added to the arsenal to adjust the tactics used by Russian aviation in Syria and other hotspots in the future, said the military experts interviewed by RBC.

The army lacks combat pilots, noted Colonel Viktor Murakhovsky (Reserves), chief editor of the magazine Arsenal of the Fatherland. During a speech in the State Duma in February, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that, as of 2016, the Aerospace Forces (VKS) lacked 1,300 pilots.

When the VKS launched its Syrian campaign, the Defense Ministry called up officers from the reserves and even introduced accelerated pilot courses for servicemen working in different jobs, such as aircraft technicians, Murakhovsky recalled.

“In this sense, it means a lot to train pilots on helicopters with dual piloting systems,” said Murakhovsky. “Thanks to the system, an experienced pilot will be able to prompt the trainee and take over the helicopter in emergencies. Pilots will be trained twice as quickly.”

The combat training version of the helicopter was initially designed to train cadets to fly the Mi-28. Previously, rookie pilots had to undergo initial training on stimulators or other helicopters, and then retrain on the Mi-28. This took time, argued Colonel Andrei Payusov (Reserves). The modernized Mi-28 will be used to train graduating cadets and retrain serving pilots, he believes.

The Mi-28 combat training helicopter will facilitate running young flight crews through their paces and nurture combat pilots, Colonel Sergei Yefimov (Reserves), a combat sniper pilot, told RBC. The Mi-28 gives the army the chance to change combat tactics, and the improved visibility and armored glass will help crews feel more confident in the cockpit.

“The modernized integrated onboard radioelectronic equipment will make searching, detecting, identifying, and eliminating targets more effective,” said Yefimov.

But in addition to accelerated training of combat pilots, the Mi-28 faces yet another task, said Colonel Sergei Gorshunov, senior navigation inspector in the Fourth Army’s aviation wing and the Southern Federal District Air Defense. In modern combat, it is hard for a single member of the crew to pilot a helicopter properly while tracking the enemy and aiming at a target, stressed Gorshunov.

“So the Defense Ministry asked for a helicopter with a dual piloting system,” said Gorshunov.

According to Gorshunov, the Mi-28UB can be used not only to support infantry but also to cause tangible damage to the enemy’s armored units.

“We might say it’s a flying tank. If the guided missiles are deployed, a couple of helicopters can disable from four to eight tanks,” concluded Gorshunov.

The first prototype of the Mi-28UB was manufactured by Rosvertol in 2013. The helicopter was put into mass production in late 2015, RBC’s source in the aviation industry said.

“The helicopter was tested for a very long time. All the tests have been passed, including tests in Syria. Now it is a matter of delivering the first batch,” he explained.

Translated by the Russian Reader

UPDATE. Russian Helicopters was listed in a White House document of Russian companies and entities that may be considered for further sanctions. The New York Times published the unclassified document on October 26, 2017.

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