Russian Helicopters: Survival, Armament and the Future

Russian Helicopters: Survival, Armament and the Future

The Right People ( TL Channel)

Russian helicopters have proven to be incredible machines, with great survivability and crew protection.

As this is an article about helicopters, comparisons with Vietnam and Soviet Afghanistan are almost inevitable on both "sides of the argument" so to speak. These comparisons I think are really a bit silly, for one thing the technology is clearly different, both in the attack and defence of the vehicles, as well as the geography and therefore the use of it for protection and attack to/from the helicopters.

  • In the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan 333 helicopters were lost.
  • In Vietnam just over 5600 American helicopters were lost.

On the other hand, it must be taken into account that in both conflicts there was a great deal of support from the rival, the Soviet Union provided Vietnam with anti-aircraft systems which destroyed an enormous number of aircraft, just under 3800.

In the same way, the American support to the Taliban was important, even culturally one of the Rambo movies was dedicated to "the brave Taliban", the most notable material support were MANPADS that took a high toll in Soviet material.

That said, a fairer comparison is with the American and NATO intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, although geographic considerations still apply, technological considerations do not, since this conflict is only just over and has relatively close beginnings. Likewise, we must bear in mind that support for NATO's opponents in these conflicts from any major international actor was either non-existent or limited.

A report published in Aircraft Survivability in Summer 2010 gave a total of 375 U.S. helicopters lost in Iraq and Afghanistan up to 2009. Of these, 70 were downed by hostile fire, while the other 305 losses have been classified as non-hostile or non-combat events.

Destroyed H-64 Apache

This seems significant to me, in the face of accusations of Russian helicopters being "junk ". Even by the highest estimates, in one year of war Russia has lost 70 helicopters, both to enemy fire while in flight, on base and to mechanical failure, which presumably has occurred, just as it does with NATO aircraft (or any machine subject to the laws of physics).

Extensive use has been made of these aircraft (in Russian doctrine, close air support is provided by helicopters) and helicopters have been the protagonists of risky missions such as Gostomel, where we saw a Russian helicopter avoid and survive more than 7 MANPADS at close range thanks to the manoeuvrability of the aircraft (a Ka-52), the pilot's skill and his countermeasures systems.

Also, as I have been saying about other conflicts, we have to take into account the support, the intelligence support of NATO with its means such as AWACS aircraft is enormous, as well as in material.

In the purchase of modern South Korean Chiron MANPADS alone, 3 billion dollars have been spent, in comparison, the entire defence budget of a NATO country like Spain (47 million inhabitants) is 17 billion euros.

In other words, we are talking about an area incredibly saturated with advanced reconnaissance means, MANPADS and other modern systems, as well as the enormous amount of anti-aircraft systems that Ukraine had, which were the most numerous in Europe after Russia.

All this, operated by an army trained for eight years for this scenario and motivated.

With an earlier bombing campaign, and a less risky overall strategy, similar to those used by NATO, this outcome could have been even better, but the political leadership of the country, for unknown reasons, decided not to proceed in this way.

VDV lands in Gostomel (drawing)

The Ka-52, which is the helicopter that has attracted most attention in the international press, has also stood out for the survival offered to its pilots, its coaxial rotor system prevents the loss of control of the aircraft, so characteristic of damaged helicopters, which spin out of control. In addition to this, its armour has made it possible for pilots to survive gunfire in the cockpit area. In this way, damaged helicopters have often been able to land and the pilots have been picked up.

In turn, we have also seen that pilots have made use of ejection systems, saving their lives, the Ka-52 being one of the few helicopters in the world with this system, providing pilots with an extra layer of protection.


Another confusion I have seen is the videos of "Product 305" attacking buildings and the weaponry of Russian helicopters, especially with regard to the use of unguided rockets. 

Russia has 3 types of weapons so to speak for its helicopters.

1 - The first covers the "area attack" role within the aforementioned close support role of Russian helicopters, this is usually done through the use of unguided munitions, launched on a ballistic trajectory but aimed through a ballistic computer in an efficient manner. In this way it is possible to attack a specific area with acceptable accuracy in an inexpensive manner, in the same way that an A-10 uses the GAU-8 to achieve this function in the close air support role. NATO does use helicopters in this way, but less extensively.

The S-8 family of missiles is a favourite for this.

2 - The second class is the type of weapon most commonly associated with a helicopter in NATO. A "tank hunting" role, the Russian equivalent of the well-known Hellfire is the Ataka and the Vikhr, with similar characteristics in terms of warhead weight and design (HEAT to defeat armour), range, total weight and other parameters, only really differing in guidance.

Vikhr missile destroys a BTR-4

3 - Then we come into the scope of Object 305, this missile really has no analogues in NATO, it weighs twice as much as a Vikhr, Hellfire or similar, and carries 25kg of explosive, the explosive is not HEAT or similar, but HE. The missiles mentioned carry about 9-12kg of payload.

We must bear in mind that a 155mm ammunition shell carries "only" 10kg of HE, a HIMARS GMLRS 90kg of HE for example, the OF-43 (203mm) ammunition of the massive 2s7 Pion carries 18kg of HE.

The 305 was designed from the outset to be both anti-vehicle and anti-structure. Therefore, it is not that the pilot is "stupid" using it against a building, it is that this weapon is being used for its intended role, attacking buildings with infantry inside, key infrastructure such as pontoons etc.

Product 305 on display and in use

One of the most limiting factors of the weapon is that, at present, it can be used by few Russian helicopters.


Object 305 is a good catalyst for visualising the future of Russian helicopter fleet, which will eventually unify the munitions they use, as well as increase the level of interconnectivity between their systems and be equipped with more powerful systems.

The 305 can be used by:

  • Mi-8AMTSh of the special forces and FSB (about 20-30 units before the war). This is a transport helicopter rather than an attack helicopter, so the full potential of the weapon cannot be exploited.
  • The Mi-28NM began to be adopted a year and a half before the war, Russia had around 10 of these aircraft when it started.
Mi-28NM, the first in-service models started to be seen around mid-2020.

  • The Ka-52M, The first contract for the supply of the modernized Ka-52M was signed in August 2021. Under the agreement, Russian Helicopters will supply 30 new attack helicopters to the Defense Ministry during 2022-2023. In total, the military intends to receive more than a hundred Ka-52Ms by 2027, previously a figure of 144 units was called.

Of course, this process has not stopped this year:

"This year, in accordance with the plan to re-equip helicopter units and formations, the delivery of Mi-28NM combat helicopters, upgraded Ka-52Ms, Mi-8AMTSh-VN airborne combat helicopters and Mi-26T2 transport helicopters is underway. Most of these machines have already arrived at helicopter regiments and will be delivered by the end of the year, according to the plan" said VKS army aviation chief Colonel Igor Romanov, 28 October 2022.

Throughout the coming year, we will see increased use of these weapons on the new platforms, just as we have seen increased use of other systems such as the Lancet.

As always, I have tried to keep the text short but informative. I hope you like it and don't forget to subscribe to my telegram channel:

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