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Is Russia arming its helicopters with long-range cruise missiles?

Author : Michael Peck

Source : Forbes

Russia says it is upgrading its most advanced attack helicopter. But does this really include arming the Ka-52 with cruise missiles?
17:50, 27 November 2020

Russian Army's KA-52 helicopters fly during an air show marking 75th anniversary of 6th airforce army based in north-west region of Russia in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, June 4, 2017
AP photo

The Russian Air Force recently conducted the first test flight of the Ka-52M, an upgrade of the 9-ton, two-seat Ka-52 Alligator (NATO code name: Hokum).

“The new Ka-52M helicopter has an upgraded optoelectronic system with an increased target detection and recognition range, a new digital drive, which will improve the aiming accuracy when firing a cannon,” the TASS news agency said in August. “The upgraded helicopter also received a new radar system with an active phased antenna array and an extended-range guided missile.”

“The helicopter can be operated at any temperature, including in Arctic conditions,” TASS said. “Its chassis is equipped with wheels with a higher load-bearing capacity and wear resistance, lighting equipment based on LEDs, and a new cockpit interior.”

Curiously, an earlier Tass article in June described the Ka-52M as being armed with a “cruise missile,” designated in the usual cryptic Russian way as “Item 305,” with a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles). Technically, a cruise missile is defined as a missile that continually flies through the atmosphere, as compared to a ballistic missile that ascends into space before plunging back into the atmosphere. A

But the term “cruise missile” conjures an image of a weapon – often capable of carrying a nuclear warhead – with a range of hundreds or thousands of miles. The U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile has a range of about 1,500 miles, for example, while Russian President Vladimir Putin claims Russia’s 3M22 Zircon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile has a range of 1,000 kilometers (540 miles), though Western analysts believe the actual range is considerably less.

However, the Zircon is at least 30 feet long, which would make it a bit of a stretch for a 50-foot-long attack helicopter. Yet if Item 305 really does have a 62-mile range, that’s much farther than the anti-tank missiles such as the U.S. Hellfire (range 7 miles) typically carried by attack helicopters.

The Mi-28NM itself is an upgrade of the Mi-28 (NATO code name: Havoc). The original Mi-28, the successor to the Cold War Mi-24 Hind and the counterpart of the Apache, is an early 1980s design. The Mi-28N debuted in the 1990s, with the NM model its latest iteration. The 9-ton Mi-28NM has a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour), a range of 450 kilometers (280 miles), and can carry 2,300 kilograms (5,100 pounds) of ordnance, according to Izvestia. Armament includes a 30-millimeter cannon, 9M120 Ataka anti-tank missiles, and rocket pods.

Izvestia boasted last year that the Ka-52 would be equipped with a mast-mounted radar that can be raised above the rotor for long-range detection. Except that the U.S. has been doing since the late 1990s, with the U.S. AH-64D Apache Longbow has had a radar mounted to the top of its mast (the vertical shaft to which the rotor is attached).

What’s also interesting is that Russia is moving away from chunky Cold War attack helicopter designs like the famous Mi-24 Hind, famed for its ruggedness but not maneuverability. The Ka-52 and Mi-28 have the slenderer lines of Western attack helicopters like the U.S. AH-64 Apache.

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