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The Mi-28N Attack Helicopter: A Look at the Liberator of Palmyra

The Mil Mi-28N Night Hunter (the N designation meaning «night» in Russia, the NATO reporting name – Havoc) is a Russian new generation all-weather, day-night, military tandem, two-seat anti-armor attack helicopter designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

During the battle of Palmyra in 2016, Russian Aerospace forces' Mil Mi-28s supported the Syrian Arab Army forces in their advance towards the city.

Capable of large-scale airstrikes, the gunship provided close air support for the Syrian military seeking to gain more territory in Islamic State (IS) controlled areas. In June, a Mi-28 was shelled by militants with heavy machine gun in Palmyra area but suffered no damage and continued its flight.

The Night Hunter helicopters have the advantage of being stationed out of Khmeimim, the main base, in places they are needed most. Stationing helicopters closer to ground operations allows the aircraft to have a longer amount of time in the air over their intended target area, as they burn less fuel in transit. The Mi-28Ns have been working closely with Russian special forces operators involved in directing close air support from the ground.

The cruise and maximum speeds are 270 km/h and 300 km/h respectively. The Mi-28 is used by the renowned Berkuty (Golden Eagles) air acrobatics team. It can climb at a rate of 13.6 m/s and has a service ceiling of 5,600 m, while the range is about 435 km. The normal and maximum take-off weights are 10,900 kg and 12,100 kg respectively.

The Night Hunter incorporates a wide range of combat equipment and advanced avionics to deliver enhanced defence capabilities. It can perform manual and automatic nap of the earth (NOE) flight and has stand-alone solo stationing capability.

The design is based on the conventional pod and boom configuration, with a tail rotor. The five-blade main rotor is mounted above the body midsection, and short, wide, tapered, weapon-carrying wings are mounted to the rear of body midsection. Two turboshaft engines in pods are mounted alongside the top of the fuselage with downturned exhausts. The fuselage is slender and tapers to the tail boom and nose.

The main rotor head has elastomeric bearings and the main rotor blades are made from composite materials. The Mi-28N boasts a new design of all plastic rotor blades, which can sustain hits from 30 mm shells. The non-retractable tricycle tail-wheel type energy-absorbing landing gear and seats protect the crew in a crash landing or in a low-altitude vertical fall. The cockpit is reinforced with armor and shock absorbers to protect both crew members and is equipped with advanced sensors for day, night and inclement weather conditions. The windshield, which withstands impact by 7.62 and 12.7mm bullets and 20mm shell fragments.

The helicopter has a small passenger compartment capable of carrying three people during search and rescue missions.

The Mi-28NE Night Hunter combat helicopter is equipped with an advanced set of integrated avionics suites for automatic detection and tracking of targets during combat missions. The Okhotnik automatic thermal television system is installed to perform intellectual processing of video images and a high-speed digital interface is used to transmit video signals.

The pilot uses a helmet-mounted target designator, which allocates the target to the navigator's surveillance and fire control system. An optical-electronic system is used to process the information collected. It is also used for observation, navigation and fire control tasks.

The gunship incorporates an airborne radar system (KRET) and a receiving-transmitting antenna module to detect dangerous objects and meteorological formations. The radar enables the helicopter to remain invisible to the enemy. Other equipment aboard the Mi-28NE includes a dual-control system, CV-28 M round-the-clock target sight system, and a laser system. The navigator/weapons officer is then able to deploy guided weapons or guns against the target. The targeting system follows the direction of the pilot's eyes.

The Mi-28 boasts a movable weapon mount with a 30mm 2A42 cannon. The gun has a dual-feed, which allows for a cyclic rate of fire between 200 rounds per minute to 550 rounds per minute with an effective range varying from 1,500 meters for ground vehicles to 2,500 meters for air targets.

The helicopter carries a slew (over 50) of underwing armaments included guided and unguided missiles and rockets, including up to 16 Ataka-B air-to-ground missiles and eight short-range Igla man-portable surface-to-air missile systems. It is also armed with two Strelets air-to-air missiles, 80mm and 130mm S-13 rocket pods, B-8 V20A rocket pods with S-8 and B-13 L'1 weapons.

The Mi-28NE Night Hunter is powered by two VK-2500 turboshaft engines manufactured by Klimov. Each engine generates a maximum take-off power of 2,200h.

According to Valery Kashin, the general designer of the Machine-Building Design Bureau, the upgraded version of the Mi-28N combat helicopter will be armed with extended range guided anti-tank missiles.

He said, the design bureau is in the process of upgrading the Ataka and Khrizantema missiles, capable of identifying, tracking and eliminating targets at a longer distance, especially for the Mi-28NM helicopter. When upgraded, the helicopter will acquire the capability to use the missiles round the clock and in any weather, including poor visibility.

The Ataka missile’s range will be increased from six kilometers to eight. The new configuration of the Mi-28N helicopter will have a fundamentally new radar, 360-degree panoramic vision and other equipment boasting enhanced capabilities to use high accuracy weapons. The first batch of upgraded helicopters is expected to enter service in 2018.

The Night Hunter will have a lot of work to do as IS militants are leaving Mosul area to move to Syria. The combination of Tu-214R surveillance plane and the MI-28N rotorcraft is an effective way to deliver high precision strikes to prevent the Syria-based extremists from getting reinforcements. They aircraft are indispensable for urban warfare in Aleppo. The battle testing in Syria is invaluable. For instance, the experience of combat engagement has helped to find new ways to counter enemy’s air defenses.

The Mi-28N is a workhorse able to boost ground forces capabilities. It is in great demand in Syria. Experts rank the rotorcraft among the best 10 in the world. This is a weapon Russia can be proud of.

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