August 19, 2013
Credit: Chris Lofting
The end of the Cold War spelled disaster for Russia's helicopter industry.
Fledgling programs were left stillborn and starved of development funds as the new Russia tried to slip the anchors of socialism. The small number of orders that did arise were pursued by two factories in Ulan-Ude and Kazan, building Mil Mi-8/17 transport helicopters. As both plants competed to produce aircraft, the result was cutthroat pricing which starved them of funds to carry out urgently needed research and development for new products.
But the birth of the Russian Helicopters consortium in 2007 and the Russian government's desire to transform its military into a leaner, more agile force has given the country's helicopter industry the shot in the arm it has long needed. Programs that had been little more than prototypes for more than a decade are finally beginning to see the light of day, entering production and operational service.
Both the Mil Mi-28 “Havoc” Night Hunter and the Ka-52 “Hokum” or Alligator attack helicopters were once stagnant programs, but are now maturing into service and being offered for export as Russia tries to win back helicopter markets it once held firmly with sales of the Hip and the Hind. These markets have been hit hard by sales of Western types such as the Boeing AH-64 Apache.
Like the country's helicopter industry, Russia's armed forces were also in the grip of obsolescence, with aging types dominating the inventory. However, the new wave of renewal means that by 2020 the Russian military services will be equipped with around 1,000 new-build helicopters.
The Ka-52 and Mi-28 are linchpins of this modernization, but the choice to integrate both surprised many observers who thought that there would only be room for one attack helicopter in the future inventory. But senior commanders point out that the complex and heavily armed Mi-28 is more suited for operations west of the Urals, while the Ka-52 with its unique co-axial configuration and robustness may be more appropriate for the more remote regions of the country. Back in the 1990s, commanders selected the Ka-50—the Ka-52's single-seat predecessor—as the country's primary attack helo, but it did not enter service in significant numbers. A decade later officials reexamined this option, and the Mi-28 was revived.
With increasing numbers now joining the Russian air force, the Mi-28 is enjoying significant interest from export customers. Russian Helicopters, and Russian weapons export ompany Rosoboronexport are optimistic that the type could replace some of the sizable fleet of Mi-24 and Mi-35 Hinds which remain in service today.