Friday, March 23, 2012

Premium Coverage: Mi-28N Night Hunter

Night Hunter can be used at any time, in any weather and is willing to work in a network-centric warfare

The global market for helicopters - one of the largest in both civil and military areas. However, the requirements of the customers are not to be taken lightly. A striking example of tough competition in this market - the situation with the tender announced by the Ministry of Defence of India for 22 combat helicopters. Despite the fact that Delhi - our strategic partner in Military Technical Cooperation (MTC), preference was given to U.S. AH-64D than Russian Mi-28NE.

The reasons, according to Indian sources, lie in the fact that Russia does not comply with the helicopter standards set forth in their tender, due to inferior performance in two dozen positions than American AH-64D 'Apache Longbow' which exceeds the Mi-28NE in the aspect of round the clock operational use. But how justified such claims are? The Mi-28 combat units have arrived in the Russian army. Has Russian Defence Ministry made a mistake?

Hard times…

Development of the Night Hunter was not an easy task - implementation of development and serial production of the Mi-28 coincided with a very difficult period in our history, characterized by the collapse of one of the state and the creation of a whole galaxy of new ones, including the present-day Russia. In connection with the general difficult situation in the Russian economy and sequestration of national defense budget. As a result, during the period 1982-1991 we developed four experimental MI-28, including two - an improved version of the Mi-28A, the first two prototypes of the helicopter Mi-28N took off in November 1996 and March 2004.

The helicopter design was later saved by a spike in energy prices which fuelled the growth of the Russian economy and proved to be a magic wand for the Mi-28 programme. In 2003, the Russian Air Force designated the two-seat, armoured, day-night military combat helicopter Mi-28N its main attack helicopter. The Night Hunter was supposed to replace the large fleet of Mi-24 helicopters. As a result, in 2003, double armored night combat helicopter Mi-28N has been identified as the workhorse for Army aviation. In the future, Night Hunter has to replace huge fleet of combat helicopters Mi-24, for the most part it was inappropriate - technically and economically.

"The Mi-28N is not just another new attack helicopter," Night Hunter  is a completely new type of vehicle"

However, some experts have questioned the accuracy and timeliness of decisions by the Russian Ministry of Defense to supply adequate number of helicopters, because of incomplete refinement of various systems especially surface-search radar. There is, of course, truth in this - especially with regard to radar, which at that time was only at the development stage. To solve the problem company planned to modernize the Mi-28N, nevertheless!

"I want to emphasize that the lack of surface-search radar in serial production of Mi-28N does not mean, the lack of round the clock all-weather performance", says General Designer of MiL Alexei Samusenko. "Series production of the helicopter started because this version provides the ability to operate around the clock, and also allows it to operate in adverse weather conditions - albeit with some limitations. Although, I must point out today, even the most modern combat helicopter can not be operated in any weather - they still have some limitations. "

Flight tests of an experimental prototype radar, which can also be used to map the Earth's terrain, were launched on an experimental Night Hunter February 16, 2007. Moreover, the upgraded attack helicopters - Mi-28NM receive radar capable of searching and detecting targets to ensure the effective application of airborne weapons (crew can detect and measure the coordinates of the stationary and moving ground targets, as well as various air targets) and it can also act as weather radar.

Entering the combat units of Mi-28N, even in the version without surface-search radar allows the main thing - to begin preparing combat helicopter pilots for new generation machines. After all, even the low-altitude flight training of pilots on the new helicopter, which is an important element of combat survivability of the modern attack helicopter is a very difficult task.

"The pilot must always fly and fly agile fighting machine, capable of the same stunt" says Alexei Samusenko. "Therefore, more hours Russian pilots get to fly the Mi-28N - the better, and soon they will be ready for its modernized version, featuring expanded capabilities for use in combat."

Interestingly Mi-28N is not just another new attack helicopter it's a completely new type of machine. Its uniqueness and technical superiority is especially apparent when you compare it with the combat vehicles, which currently are in service with the Russian army aviation. However machines of this class are available to the military in many foreign countries. That's why early entry of the troops to the new machine - though not in the 'full set' is important to increase the combat potential of Russian military aviation.

The first Mi-28N transferred was to the Russian Air Force in early 2008 - they are immediately received by the Centre for combat use and re-training of flight personnel in Torzhok, where the army began their tests. And next year in 2009, two Mi-28N took part demonstrating practical use of weapons. On December 26, 2008 were successfully completed state joint testing Mi-28N, which was attended by two experienced pre-and seven helicopters, 15 October 2009 presidential decree of a new combat helicopter has officially adopted for the Russian Air Force.

It is noteworthy that at the beginning of 2006 the Russian Air Force Commander Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov informed that by the year 2010 army will have 50 Mi-28N. However, today Rostvertol issued and delivered about 40 combat helicopters Mi-28N. However, the rate of production is gradually gaining momentum and only last year the Air Force received 10 helis. The next six Hunters have been handed over to the military in Rostov-on-Don in early October of 2011, while the Russian Defense Ministry and the holding company "Russian Helicopters", which consists of "MVZ named after Mil" and "Rostvertol" , signed a multiyear contract for the supply of combat helicopters Mi-28N till 2020. And since 2015, according to present plans of the plant should start producing modernized versions of Night Hunter.

Universal capabilities

A modern combat helicopter - is a complex combat aircraft, with a universal set, which is not only able to fly and apply different kinds of weapons but able to deal effectively with a wide range of tasks, as well as meeting all the requirements of modern warfare. At the same time it had to operate - day and night, in adverse weather conditions, at low altitude and high altitude, at low temperatures and in hot climates.

That's why developers who are in the process of designing Mi-28 and later improved version of the Mi-28N tried to implement all the most modern technical and technological solutions in areas like avionics and weaponry. It suffices to say that recently Mi-28N without any additional modifications successfully completed world record flight in El'brus.

One of the distinguishing features of the Night Hunter became the new integrated complex of airborne equipment, to ensure the helicopter around the clock operation, and includes optical and electronic surveillance-aiming stations with a television and thermal imaging channels, combined with a laser rangefinder and a control system of anti-tank missile system, and turret optic-electronic system consisting television and thermal imaging channels, which can significantly increase the combat efficiency of this vehicle.

The first system is placed in the nose section of the helicopter in the rotary cylindrical container, and the second - in the small rotary “sphere” above this container. In the nose section, under the special fairing equipment for radio link controlling anti-tank complex is located.

Night Hunter, which was built on the basis of integrated complex of airborne equipment using latest generation of digital computer also includes a modern navigation system, flight director and new sophisticated means of communication. The entire sight, flight and navigation, and other information required by the crew, is displayed on the windshield in the cockpit and four multi-color LCD - two in the pilot and two for navigator-operator. For flight at night the crew use night vision goggles.

"At the same time as opposed to Americans" says Alexei Samusenko, "based on the experience gained in Afghanistan, we have stressed upon high combat survivability. That is, the helicopter has an effective protection - active and passive - from a variety of weapons, ranging from small arms to various kinds of missile weapons for example, the same thermal homing missiles. In fact, our combat helicopters are adapted to operate in conditions where the enemy can be at the bottom and or around the helicopter. "

For this purpose survivability in battle is core feature of Mi-28N which has highly advanced defense system - namely, warning stations for laser and radar irradiation and cartridge-actuated chaffs/infrared decoys (the latter are located in the removable containers on the wingtips). In addition, new airborne defense is planned for Mi-28NM.

It should be noted that both crew members of Night Hunter sit in an armored cab to ensure the survival of pilots in emergency landing with significant congestion - it was clearly demonstrated during the emergency situation in which during a training exercise at Gorokhovets one of the troop crashed in a Mi-28N.

One of the important feature of Mi-28N, which gives it an edge over the Russian and foreign counterparts. was pointed out in 2010, by Deputy Director of Center of the combat employment and retraining of flight personnel in Torzhok Colonel Igor Boutenko: "The most important feature of the Mi-28N, which distinguishes it, for example, by American Apache - that it is almost completely armored. Cockpit and navigator cabins are fully protected, by armored glass, same goes for basic units of the helicopter, including motors, and gears, etc. Main rotor blades can withstand falling projectiles up to 30mm caliber. Designers have also widely applied composite materials in the manufacture of various elements of helicopter."

Combat trainer version

One of the fashionable today's trends are utilising  network-centric software in the fighting. So is Mi-28N up for it?

Answer came from General Designer Mil Alexei Samusenko "We had a test flight of the Mi-28N testing the possibility of its integration into a unified system of command and control a while ago, back in 2006, and there were among the first tests of such kind. As part of those tests, we decided to perform a complex task, which included search and target detection, classification, and target data transmission to another aircraft, and vice versa. We also carried out information exchange from ground-based stations, data including search for targets, its detection and destruction."

Naturally, to solve these problems a corresponding set of avionics that meet the latest requirements is needed. So to work in a network-centric warfare Mi-28N is ready and is not inferior to the American Apache Longbow, but the final decision on the full incorporation of network-centric circuit lies with the customer and the command of the Russian Air Force.

On the other hand, question arises about the training for combat Mi-28N, which has dual controls. Such a machine has necessitated retraining upon a new helicopter model for Russian troops.

According to the company Mi-28UB is ready for combat training, Rostvertol is underway for the practical implementation of the project - building the first prototype.

Finally, the holding company "Russian Helicopters" and Rosoboronexport is actively working to promote to the world market export version helicopters - Mi-28NE. Active interest in the machine is shown by Algeria and Venezuela. In particular, in July 2007 a helicopter was involved in a series of demonstration flights in Algeria, which took place in the desert and in the summer, the hottest months. According to experts familiar with the situation, Night Hunter has been tested, which included the use of guided and unguided missiles and small arms and cannon armament upon real targets. Then, in July of 2007, great interest to the helicopter was shown by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his visit to Russia. There is high probability of supplying Mi-28NE to Libya. However, export of Night Hunter is just beginning, so the main news is yet to come.

Vladimir Raising


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