October 28, Russian Army aviation 67 years old. The date is not round, but at the same time on October 28 exactly thirty days from the moment of the start of strikes by a group of Russian Aerospace Forces on militant positions in Syria. And if the actions of the "elder brothers" - attack aircraft, front-line bombers and fighters - are constantly covered by officials and the media, then the work of Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters also based in the Khmeimim airbase remains in the shadows.
According to official data of the Russian military department, attack helicopters Mi-24 and airborne transport Mi-8 have been deployed to Syria. The task of the helicopter pilots is the search and rescue of the downed pilots, as well as the protection of the airbase against a possible attack by the militants.
Forces and means
The exact number of helicopters is not called, it is only known that the combined air group includes more than 50 airplanes and helicopters of several types. It can be assumed that 12 – 15 machines of army aviation are based in total in Lattakia.
“In theory, a rocket hits a target at a range of up to five to six kilometers, but in practice, in order to get there, you must get much closer”
The combat-operating Mi-24 operating in Syria (according to the available data, not less than seven vehicles) belong to the “P” modification, which is distinguished by a fixed 30-mm cannon installation located on the starboard side. Whatever is said officially, Mi-24, they are also in the army slang "Crocodiles", are used primarily to strike at the identified positions of the militants, as well as to directly support the Syrian government forces.
The fleet of amphibious transport helicopters of the Russian VKS group in Syria is more diverse, with both the new Mi-8AMTSH and Mi-8MTV-5 with the characteristic “dolphin” nose. Accordingly, in Hmeimim "eights" at least five - eight cars.
As explained to the Military Industrial Courier newspaper, a representative of the Ministry of Defense issued by the Ulan-Uda Mi-8AMTSH helicopter plant ("Terminator") can be used to transport troops and cargo, as well as to evacuate downed pilots and perform percussion tasks, if necessary, complementing Mi -24.
“Mi-8AMTSH can be effectively used in adverse weather conditions, and most importantly - at night. His onboard equipment is compatible with night-vision devices that the crew has. Pilots work out such tasks constantly. However, it is impossible to use guided missiles with AMTSH, so the ammunition load is limited to unguided rockets and cannon-mounts, ”said the source. The photos of the Mi-8AMTSH, which are based on the Khmeimim airbase, which are available on the network, clearly show that NAR units are installed on them.
Externally similar to AMTSH, but the Mi-8MTV-5 released in Kazan are primarily transport vehicles intended for the transport of personnel and various cargoes.
Relatively recently, it was reported that the latest Mi-28H "Night Hunter" attack helicopters were also shipped to Syria. However, according to the newspaper “Military-Industrial Courier”, neither Mi-28, nor Ka-52, nor Mi-35М (deep modernization of Mi-24) are transferred to Syria, the question of their possible participation is only being worked out.
The reason why the choice of the leadership of the Russian aerospace forces in the formation of the shock group in Syria fell on the older, but proven Mi-24P, in comparison with the new models, which are very limited in possible actions in adverse weather conditions, is not called. However, army aviation officers made several assumptions on this matter.
The first. The Aerospace Forces have a vast experience not only in operation, but also in maintaining the flight and combat readiness of Mi-24 helicopters with their intensive use in desert conditions, characterized by high temperatures and large amounts of dust and sand. The fact that the newest Ka-52 and Mi-28 in Syria, especially with intensive combat work, will be just as reliable, there is no absolute certainty, but I don’t want to risk it.
The second. the main thing weapon the newest helicopters - whirlwind guided anti-tank missiles - are too expensive to use on ordinary jeeps and trucks with machine guns mounted on them. And if we also take into account the costs of maintenance, refueling, and so on, then from an economic point of view, using the latest Mi-28 and Ka-52 to combat such "carts", even using conventional unguided missiles, is completely unjustified.
Although the air forces of Iraq’s neighbor with Syria have long enough and successfully used Russian attack helicopters Mi-35М, and more recently, more modern Mi-28, against ISIL militants. Iraqi pilots use ATGM to destroy buildings, for other targets they work with cannon fire and unguided rockets. But the Iraqi command has its reasons, our Ministry of Defense has its own reasons.
Judging by the available photos and videos, in Syria, Russian helicopter pilots operate strictly according to regulatory documents, while demonstrating a high level of flying skill. It is still quite difficult to assess the real effectiveness of their combat work: let's say, on the video chronicle one can see launches of unguided missiles by Mi-24 helicopters, hits are visible, but it is unclear whether the target was hit, whether the firing point was suppressed, whether the militants were covered. And the official representatives of the Ministry of Defense do not voice the results of the work of Russian helicopter pilots, nor even the number of combat sorties they performed.
Considering the location of the Khmeimim airbase and its distance from the Russian helicopters, as well as the estimated number of Mi-24 and Mi-8 based there, it can be assumed that the Army Aviation performed at least 100 sorties for the month to attack and patrol air base area.
The main weapon of the Russian Mi-24 in Syria became unguided aircraft missiles. Depending on the task being performed, two or four NAR units are suspended on pylons. In addition to the unguided rockets, the Crocodiles also carry two, and sometimes four, Sturm anti-tank missiles, but there is no reliable confirmation of the use of these missiles.
But the Russian pilots use cannon arsenal quite rarely. Given that helicopters operate at low altitude and at high speeds, there is practically no time for aiming at a small target. The very first video footage of the work of Russian attack helicopters in Syria caused a stream of comments in foreign and domestic media. Journalists and experts, comparing the use of US Ap-64 Apache attack helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq, made by the on-board optical-electronic systems of these helicopters (the so-called kill video), state that the on-board armament of Russian helicopters is extremely inefficient, and flying low on height make "Crocodiles" excellent targets.
At the request of the newspaper “Military Industrial Courier”, the pilot of the Mi-24 helicopter of the Russian Aerospace Force commented on such reports in the media, and also explained some features of using Russian attack helicopters: “Yes, the video of using American Apaches looks very impressive. There are fighters visible on the thermal imager, several bursts from a cannon - and all targets are hit. But for some reason no one pays attention to the fact that the helicopter is firing either at very low speed, or even hanging. At the same time, the helicopter has a high enough height, not one hundred meters, and it fires for a few minutes, while the enemy practically does not respond to it. If the militants would have large-caliber machine guns of the DShK type or anti-aircraft installations Zu-23-2, it is unlikely that Apache would be able to afford such pleasure. ”
According to the pilot, Mi-24 usually operate in pairs. Depending on the type of target, the pilot of the lead vehicle chooses a maneuver.
“If the target is large enough in area - a group of buildings, a cluster of vehicles or infantry, then the launch of the missiles is done with a small climb. If the target is a point - an armored vehicle, field reinforcement, a separate building, then the missiles are launched from horizontal flight or dive. After the strike, the NUR theoretically should open fire from a cannon, after which a sharp lapel or anti-fuel maneuver is performed. But in practice, if the enemy responds with fire, it is better to skip the cannon, and immediately turn away, ”the pilot shares the secrets of tactics.
Unlike the same AN-64, the Mi-24 cannot hang in place for the use of weapons and, as the Russian pilot said, everything has to be done in motion.
“To use the ATGM, the operator needs to find a target, take it to support, and only then launch it. The "Crocodile" does not have modern optoelectronic systems, so it all depends on the skills of the crew. While the missile is approaching the target, the operator keeps it on track, and the pilot must evade enemy fire so as not to interfere with the operator’s work. In theory, a missile strikes a target at a distance of five to six kilometers, but in practice, to get a guided missile accurately, you need to come much closer. Therefore, conventional NAR is preferred. Yes, with such missiles tanks you can’t do it, but for light armored vehicles, for buildings, for field fortifications, a volley of several unguided missiles is enough to destroy the target. But you fired a salvo of NAR, quickly turned away and left the fire, ”the officer explains.
The tactic “shot - and quickly leave” is used not only by Russian helicopter pilots. According to official data from the US Army, on the first day of the Anaconda operation in Afghanistan, when the crews of six Apache helicopters from the 101 air assault division were met with intense fire from large-caliber machine guns and anti-aircraft installations, and well-aimed shots from hand-held grenade launchers RPG-7 militants "Taliban", the Americans spent several hundred unguided missiles, a total of 540 shells 30-mm aircraft cannon and only one ATGM "Hellfire".
In order to evade fire from the ground, American pilots had to fall to extremely low altitude, but this did not save them from enemy fire. Then, at their own expense, the militants recorded two downed Apache. According to the recollections of the helicopter pilots of the 101-th VSD, in such conditions only high speed and abrupt maneuvers saved. At the same time, there was not enough time to accurately aim from a cannon or launch an anti-tank missile, so the helicopter pilots launched a NAR volley at the enemy and immediately carried out the withdrawal.
When the night falls
It is impossible to deny that modern foreign attack helicopters, such as the AN-64 and Tiger, are seriously superior to the Russian Mi-24P when operating at night. In particular, during an operation in Libya, according to the British Defense Ministry, Apache helicopters of an army air corps made more than 85 percent of combat sorties at night.
“At night in conditions of urban combat, when the enemy is close to his troops, it is very difficult to use helicopters. It all depends on how well the aircraft carrier works on the ground. From the air through a night vision device it is very difficult to distinguish where their own, and where others are. We must not forget that civilians can be near the target, ”the source said.
Therefore, the most effective way of nightly use of helicopters in local conflicts is free hunting in specified areas, but even in these cases no one is immune from the fact that civilians would come under fire.
Although it is not excluded that for strikes after sunset, the VKS RF uses just transport-impact Mi-8АМТШ, equipped with fairly modern optical-electronic stations.
Despite the fact that the Ministry of Defense of Russia in its official statements prefers not to advertise the participation of helicopters in air strikes, these machines solve quite complex tasks, while the number of sorties made by helicopters is significant. It is still difficult to assess exactly what number of targets destroyed the Mi-24 and Mi-8, but an indirect sign of the effectiveness of their work is the slow, but still ongoing, offensive of the Syrian government forces.
And despite the fact that while in Syria, proven, but still morally obsolete Mi-24Ps do not have modern means of observation and sighting complexes, losing even to the modernized Mi-35М, not to mention the more modern Mi-28 and Ka-52.