The Mi-24/35 (NATO reporting name Hind) is an attack helicopter type which was once in mass use in Eastern Europe, operated in the 1990s and the early 2000s by the air arms of no less than seven countries, with a total fleet exceeding 170 aircraft.
Today the population is much smaller, with less than 50 Hinds remaining in active service in the region. There are chances, however, that this numerical strength will be maintained in the near future, as the type is set to serve for longer than originally anticipated in the Czech Republic and Poland, while Bulgaria and Hungary have also invested to extend the life of their aging machines. In contrast, for new-build Mi-35Ms of–advanced gunships with much enhanced day/night capability and better guided missiles and guns were delivered to Serbia on 03 December 2019.
The original Mi-24V Hind-E and its slightly improved derivative dubbed Mi-35 are the most numerous in service in the region, but the fleet has suffered from increasingly obsolescent systems and armament, and is lacking any usable adverse weather and night operating capability. It was originally designed in the mid-1970s as an armored attack helicopter with considerable transport capability offered by its cabin for eight troops, although this design feature is rarely used.
Bulgaria – maintaining a marginal capability
Providing Bulgaria’s attack helicopter capability, a 44-strong Mi-24 fleet – including 38 Mi-24Ds (Hind-D) originally delivered between 1979 and 1985, and six more Mi-24Vs in 1986 – was cut in half in 1999. The type has suffered from a significant lack of serviceability due to the limited supply of otherwise vital and expensive spare parts, such as rotor blades, as well as expired engine and airframe time between overhauls – both TBO and total airframe time.
In 2002–2004 dozens of Mi-24Ds were sold to local arms trade companies. Six were thus delivered to the US and two went to the Ivory Coast in 2003. Then six Hind-Ds followed suite to Mali between 2007 and 2010 after having completed overhaul. Five more surplus Mi-24Ds were then sold out by the Bulgarian MoD to Metalika-AV in December 2011, and by late 2017 at least four of these had been returned to airworthy condition. In 2017–2018 three were sold out to the Ivory Coast and one went to Burkina Faso in 2018, followed by another helicopter in 2019.
During the mid-2000s, the six Mi-24Vs were the only attack helicopters remaining in operation with the Bulgarian Air Force (BuAF), with one or two of them maintained in airworthy status at any time. The fleet was finally grounded in early 2011 due to service life expiry of their airframes – originally limited to 20 years of operation. In fact, two Hind-Es continued flying for three to four more years thanks to airframe life extensions granted by the BuAF’s own aviation-engineering service.
In 2004, the Bulgarian MoD moved forward with a tender covering the comprehensive upgrade and life extension of all six Mi-24Vs plus six of the newest Mi-24Ds – all of these helicopters were delivered in 1985 and 1986.
The result was the selection of Elbit Systems of Israel, which tendered in November-December 2004 a package price for upgrade, overhaul and airframe life extension of Euro 57.2 million (covering 12 Mi-24s and six Mi-17s as well). Avionics upgrade work was to comprise installation of an on-board processor, integrated with a digital map, embedded GPS/INS navigation system, and multifunctional displays in both NVG-friendly cockpits as well as a control and display unit. New observation and aiming equipment onboard the Mi-24 was to include a high-performance multi-sensor turret as well as Elbit’s advanced helmet-mounted display and targeting system and also Western-standard navaids, all-new self-protection suite, new radios and weapons interfaces.
Even before the contract was finalized, sources from the Bulgarian MoD hinted that the package price of Euro 57.2 million for the sophisticated upgrade, combined with an overhaul and life extension, was a too low cost for such a comprehensive program. There were also concerns that Elbit would not be able to obtain a valid approval for the upgrades, as required by the Bulgarian MoD. Such an approval was to be issued by Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant (MHP), the design authority for the Mi-17 and Mi-24, but the Russian company had clearly stated that Elbit was ineligible for such a license, citing numerous design-right violations by the Israeli company in the past.
The Bulgarian Mi-24 upgrade program sparked further controversy as then Russian defense minister, Sergey Ivanov, publicly declared on February 10, 2005 that Russia would consider any agreements similar to the Bulgarian contract – those not supported by OEM licensing – as illegal. Following rather problematic contract details negotiations, and despite Russia’s serious objections, the upgrade contract between Elbit and the Bulgarian MoD was finally signed on December 2, 2005, but very little work followed.
Eventually, on January 30, 2007, the Bulgarian Government and Elbit agreed to terminate the contract by mutual consent due to the impossibility of its performance. Bulgarian reasons behind this bitter decision also acknowledged Russia’s refusal to cooperate with Elbit on the delivery of airframe life extension know-how and the supply of critical spare parts, such as rotor blades, for the Hinds and Hips. Bulgaria is known to have paid around Euro 3.5 million to Elbit for developments works and equipment supplied until contract termination.
A new tender was announced by the Bulgarian MoD in 2008. This time, the Mi-24 upgrade has been intended to be carried out in close cooperation with the Russian design authority, Mil MHP, using a technical specification broadly similar to that of the first contract. At the same time, in a bid to have a successful upgrade of helicopter’s communication, navigation and identification (CNI) equipment, Electronic Warfare (EW) suite and integration of a Link 16 terminal onboard, a tailored working scheme was conceived. It called for appointment of a Bulgarian main contractor, TEREM Holding EAD company, a MoD-owned defense equipment maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) enterprise, which would then subcontract the upgrade and life extension works to Rosoboronexport (the Russian arms export monopolist, which will appoint Mil MHP, as OEM, to perform the actual work). The NATO-sensitive part of the avionics upgrade, in turn, was intended to be carried out by Western subcontractors, without Russian involvement.
All the upgrade and airframe refurbishment works were to be carried out by the Sofia-based TEREM-Letets facility using Russian upgrade kits and know-how, while engines and main gearboxes were to be overhauled in Russia.
In early 2009, however, the Mi-24 upgrade program was canceled before reaching an agreement with MoD, allegedly due to the excessively high price which had reportedly failed to fit into MoD’s allocated budget.
This way, by 2014 the BuAF eventually decided to invest in the simple overhaul and life extension of its six Mi-24Vs in order to retain a generic attack capability. It was performed through a framework agreement with TEREM Holding EAD, where the Russian Helicopters has acted as the principal subcontractor, providing spare parts and overhaul of certain systems for the helicopters as well as a life extension know-how and final approval.
The first Hind-E covered by this agreement completed a notably protracted overhaul and life extension works at the TEREM-Letets MRO plant at Sofia Airport-North and was redelivered to the BuAF in late November 2015. The Hind-E is assigned to the helicopter squadron of the 24th Air Base at Krumovo near Plovdiv, also equipped with Mi-17s and AS532AL Cougars for tactical transport duties.
This Hind-E, originally manufactured in February 1986, was certified following the overhaul for another seven years’ operation or 1,000 flight hours, whichever comes first, according to a service bulletin issued by Mil MHP, the Mi-24’s design authority, and to the total of 36 years of operation.
The second overhauled and life-extended Mi-24V was returned to regular service in late 2017. Both of these Bulgaria Hind-Es are expected to remain in service until 2022–2023. Due to the lack of funds at the time, no other Mi-24Vs have been cycled through the program.
In 2018, the Bulgarian MoD launched a new tender for another framework agreement covering the overhaul and life extension of the four remaining Mi-24Vs, where TEREM-Holding EAD was the only bidder. On March 26, 2019 the Bulgarian MoD announced the results of the tender, where the unit price for the Mi-24V overhaul was set at US $4 million.
More than 70% of the value of the works is expected to be on the account of Russian subcontractors delivering spare parts, performing engine and main gearbox overhaul and granting life-extension know-how and approval. Negotiations where successfully completed and a 4-year agreement was signed on 12 June 2019 beteen the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence and TEREM-Holding EAD. It is expected that the first Mi-24Vs could be re-delivered to the BuAF by late 2020, while the extended service life of this second-batch of life-extended Hind-Es would make them good for flying until 2027–2028.
No upgrades are conceived, however, for the Bulgarian Mi-24s during the overhaul to address obsolescence in communication, navigation, and identification systems and the armored gunships are set to continue their service well into the mid-2020s with their original avionics and armament suites dating back from the late 1970s, with the only novelty being a Trimble 2021 I/O Approach GPS receiver bolted on in the front cockpit to be used by the Mi-24’s co-pilot/gunner.
Czech Republic – service life extended
The Czech Air Force is the East European operator with the youngest Hind fleet, representing a mixture of Mi-24Vs and Mi-35s delivered in the early/mid-2000s. These machines were originally slated to serve until the end of this decade but now it seems that a significant portion of the Russian attack fleet is poised to remain for longer period although no upgrades are considered for it.
The Czech Air Force originally inherited a fleet of 16 Mi-24Ds (delivered between 1978 and 1983) and 20 Mi-24Vs (delivered between 1985 and 1989), together with one Mi-24DU trainer upon the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. All of these attack machines were retired in the mid-2000s. Six Mi-24Vs were donated following overhaul to Afghanistan in 2006 and these machines remained in active use there until the mid-2010s.
In 2003, the Czech Air Force took on strength seven newly-built Mi-24Vs in addition to ten more Mi-35s, delivered in 2005 and 2006. These new attack helicopters were received as a part of Russian arms deliveries in lieu to writing off Russian trade debt to the Czech Republic dating back to the Soviet era. The Mi-35s (in fact, the export Mi-24V version) differed from the Mi-24Vs by some minor technical features and sport external and internal lighting compatible with Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) in addition to English-language stenciling in the cockpits.
Today the Mi-24V/35 force is equipping the 221st Squadron at Namest-nad-Oslavou air base. The main tasks of the Hinds are to provide support of the land forces, close air support on the battlefield – including destruction of small-size hardened targets – plus medical evacuation, air reconnaissance, escort of other helicopters or ground convoys, and combat search and rescue operations. In addition, the fast attack helicopters can be used, on as-needed basis, for reinforcement of the national air defense system, intercepting slow-flying air targets at low and ultra-low altitude. An unusual peacetime mission for the Czech Mi-24V/35 force is the civil search and rescue performed on day-to-day basis, covering a vast area in the Eastern part of the Czech Republic.
The Czech Mi-24V/35 fleet is known as a very active one in the international arena, as the fleet is a regular participant in multi-national exercises organized in NATO area. The biggest benefit is that the international exercises enhance the tactical skills and interoperability of the aircrews when involved in NATO operations. In addition, the Czech aircrews now practice on regular basis NVG flying. It was initiated in 2005, using in the beginning Russian-made GEO-ONV-1 NVG sets, delivered together with the Mi-35s, while today, US-made AN/AVS-9 NVG sets are in use.
The Czech Mi-24V/35 fleet, although still relatively young and little-used, is now seriously considered as outdated for it lacks modern targeting avionics for night operations as well as mission planning system, secure communications and datalinks, and self-protection suite to counter heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles. Its main guided weapon – the 9M114 Shturm-V missile with semi-active command radio-guidance – is also considered to be obsolete.
There are no plans for upgrade of the Hind-E’s mission avionics suite and weapons, however, as it is deemed to be a rather expensive and protracted undertaking. It would be even more difficult and risky exercise in the current political environment, with tensions between Russia (the original manufacturer of the helicopter) and the Western world. That is why in 2011, the Czech MoD long-term plans, outlined in the so-called Defense White Paper, insisted on a gradual withdrawal from use of the Mi-24V/35 fleet, with completion of the decommissioning process originally expected by 2015–2016. By that time the helicopters of the first batch, delivered in 2003, would run out of useful life, as their time between overhaul of 1,000 flight hours and eight years will be expired in full.
In fact, at the time it was considered that instead of main overhaul at LOM Praha after 2011, the fleet would undergo a technical inspection at its home airbase in Namest to allow the airframe service life to be extended with 500 flight hours or/and 3.5 years, whichever occurred first.
Meanwhile, the Czech military has initiated a program to replace in the early 2020s the entire Mi-24V/35 fleet with 12 new-build Western-made tactical transport helicopters outfitted with sighting systems and forward-firing weapons, including rockets, gun pods and guided missiles. In mid-June 2015, the Czech MoD requested information from governments and several Western manufacturers about their offering for helicopters capable of performing combat support tasks, such as troop transport and medical evacuation. The tender was announced in mid-2017, and in October that year the Czech MoD shortlisted the Bell Helicopter UH-1Y and Leonardo Helicopters AW139M, but before long the acquisition drive was put on hold. The newly-appointed defense minister Karla Šlechtová asked the military authorities responsible for the tender to rework the technical specifications, but the new specifications were approved only by February 2018. These were set to allow Airbus and Sikorsky to enter the tender once again, offering the H145M and an armed version of the S-70i Black Hawk.
In April 2018, the Czech MoD announced that it had planned to launch a new tender for 12 medium-class multi-role helicopters, priced at about US $240 million. By April 2019, however, no tender has been launched yet and this provides the Mi-24V/35 fleet with fair prospects for continuing its service for at least six or seven years. On 12 December 2019 a deal for buying 12 helicopters valued at up to $650 million was finalised at a meeting between US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Czech Republic Defense Minister Lubomir Metnar at the Pentagon. Deliveries under this deal are expected to begin in 2023.
Latest news from Prague, dating March 16, 2019, appear to indicate that the Czech MoD looks inclined to buy US-made helicopters without a tender, by following a fast-track procurement procedure. According to Jakub Landovsky, deputy minister of defense, the choice in the new procurement procedure, with a budget two-fold increase to US $553 million, will be made between the UH-1Y and S-70i.
Due to the expected delay in the procurement of the new helicopters, the Czech MoD and the local industry, represented by LOM Praha (the company involved in the Mi-24V/35’s depot-level maintenance) agreed in 2015 that there was yet a long life in the helicopters. They initiated an overhaul program for the Hind-E fleet, priced at about $37.5 million, covering ten helicopters. Upon the overhaul completion at LOM Praha in 2017–2020, these ten Mi-24/35s were provided with 1,000 flight hours and seven years of service life, but no avionics or armament upgrades are in the MoD plans.
Hungary – set to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with the H145M and H225M
Hungary received a fleet of 30 Mi-24Ds from the former Soviet Union between 1978 and 1985, followed by ten Mi-24Vs taken in 1987–1988.
The fleet was reinforced in 1993 by 14 second-hand Mi-24Vs and six Mi-24Ps taken from the fleet of the former German Democratic Republic Air Force, provided by Germany free of charge. Only two Mi-24Ps, however, were overhauled and re-entered service while the remaining Hinds were placed in long-term storage.
The last flying Mi-24s in Hungarian service were grounded in 2013 due to expired airframe service life but the type was not withdrawn from use. There were no funds for their overhaul and life extension over the years and only in 2017 the program was rejuvenated, with a contract with Russian Helicopters for the Mi-24’s prompt return to service, inked on October 31. The contract was originally reported to have covered eight helicopters – this figure including six Mi-24Ps and two Mi-24Vs – plus four options (Mi-24Vs). As of now, all eight of the firm contract were cycled through overhaul at the 419 ARZ military MRO facility in Gorelovo near St. Petersburg and no more machines are known to have been eventually included in the program. During their overhaul in Russia, the helicopters received some minor upgrades such as NVG compatibility and a new control panel for the navigation and communication systems.
The first four overhauled and life-extended Hinds were delivered back to Hungary in September 2018 – two Mi-24Vs and two Mi-24Ps. Hungary is known as the only nation in East Europe operating the Mi-24P Hind-F version armed with a massive and powerful twin-barrel GSh-2-30 30 mm gun, installed in a fixed position on the starboard side and provided with 470 rounds. The last four helicopters from the order, again Mi-24Ps, were delivered back to Hungary in January 2019. The life extension undertaken together with the overhaul provided the Mi-24V/Ps with 1,000 flight hours and seven years of service life.
According to Brigadier Jozsef Koller, Commanding Officer of the 86th Tactical Helicopter Wing at Szolnok, the overhauled and life-extended Hind-E/Fs are planned to remain in service for at least seven years. Their mission set will be also expanded – in addition to their purely military tasks, the helicopters will also see participation in disaster relief operations, providing assistance to the civil population.
The Mi-24 fleet will be complemented and eventually replaced by armed light and medium-size helicopters of Western origin. In June 2018, the Hungarian MoD inked an agreement with Airbus for the purchase of 20 H145M light twin-engine helicopters with a maximum take-off weight of 3.6 tons, outfitted with the HForce weapons management system, with first deliveries slated for 2020. The armament selection of the Hungarian H145Ms will include both guns and rockets in addition to guided missiles – most likely 70 mm, supplied by Thales. The targeting suite will be represented by the L-3 Wescam MX-15 electro-optical/infrared turret in the nose for day/night operations and a Thales Scorpion monocular helmet-mounted sight display for the pilots. The number of weapons kits ordered for the H145M fleet is about ten.
Then, in December 2018, another order was placed, this time for 16 H225M multi-role helicopters outfitted for tactical transport, some of which will also be equipped with the HForce system to enable the 11-ton helicopter to be used for fire support purposes.
Poland – upgrade plans still alive
The Polish Army Aviation took 16 Mi-24Ds on strength between 1978 and 1985, followed by 16 Mi-24Ws (the Polish-specific designation of the Mi-24V) between 1986 and 1991.
In 1996, Poland got 18 more second-hand Mi-24Ds as a donation from Germany, formerly operated by the East German Air Force. The Polish MoD eventually decided to cycle through overhaul and re-introduce 16 of the ex-German machines into service, using the remaining two as spare parts donors.
Today, the aged Hind fleet of the Polish Army Aviation service, comprising 13 Mi-24Ws and 15 Mi-24Ds in active service, equips two squadrons assigned to the 56th Air Base Inowrocław-Latkowo and another one with the 49th Air Base at Pruszcz Gdański.
Flying a mix of Hind-D/E variants, one of the 56th AB’s squadrons has an attack role, while the second is also equipped with eight newly-delivered PZL Swidnik W-3PL Głuszec armed helicopters, and is assigned the CSAR role.
Three Mi-24Ds were damaged and subsequently written off during the combat deployment to Iraq between 2005 and 2010, while two more sustained serious damage but were repaired.
The Mi-24Ws, in turn, were involved in combat operations in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2014. Three helicopters were reported damaged beyond repair in non-combat-related accidents in Afghanistan and at least one was heavily damaged in an emergency landing following mechanical failure, but was then repaired at WZL-1 military MRO plant in Łódź and returned to service.
The older and less capable Mi-24D version was originally slated for withdrawal from use upon expiration of its extended service life between 2016 and 2019, but now it seems that the Hind-D will continue for a while. In turn, the newer Mi-24Ws were set to serve a little longer than the Mi-24Ds, originally slated to be kept until 2020–2022, when the new-generation Kruk attack helicopter was expected to be fully introduced into Polish service. The serious delay incurred by the Kruk program, however, is going to force the Polish MoD to keep its aged Hind-D/E fleet until at least 2025, or even 2030, in case it decides to proceed forward with a comprehensive avionics and weapon systems upgrade.
A comprehensive upgrade of the Mi-24’s mission avionics and weapons for day and night operations had been planned for the first time in the early 2000s, but in June 2003 Poland dropped its requirement to upgrade as many as 40 Hind-D/Es, opting instead for launching a new program set to cover only the Mi-24W fleet. Thirteen of these machines were scheduled at the time to get new NATO-interoperable avionics suites and new guided weapons, while three more were set to be upgraded for use in the combat search and rescue (CSAR) role. The upgraded Mi-24Ws were to remain in service until about 2015, while the older Mi-24Ds – considered as finally running out of airframe life – were slated for retirement in the 2005–2006 timeframe. In this event, the Polish MoD decided to shelve the ambitious and rather expensive Hind-E upgrade program as it had reportedly failed to reach working agreements with its Russian partners – arms export agency Rosoboronexport and Mil MHP.
As an alternative, a considerably less ambitious upgrade package was then conceived for the Mi-24W fleet, to be implemented by the Polish industry for delivering of a basic NATO interoperability to the Hind fleet. Completed just prior to the Hind-E’s deployment to Afghanistan, the upgrade comprised all-new communication, navigation and identification friend-or-foe (CNI) equipment, NVG-compatible internal and external lighting for use with Polish-made PNL-3 NVG sets and a Ukrainian-made infrared (IR) jammer. A number of Mi-24Ds were later upgraded to the same standard, albeit without the jammer.
The Warsaw Air Force Institute of Technology (IWTL) integrated the new CNI package for production installation at state-owned Military Aviation Works No. 1 (WZL-1) at Łódź. In addition, WZL-1 overhauled the airframes to extend the airframe life.
The new communication equipment, a mixture of Polish-, German- and US-made pieces of kit (some of them built to military standard and some to civil standard), included the ZSŁ-1 integrated communication system of Radmor RRC-9500 VHF radio, Harris RF-5800H-MP-036 HF, Rhode & Schwarz MR-6000R-XM6013P UHF/VHF, Unimor RS-6106 VHF and RS06113-2 UHF/VHF radios. Navigation systems installed on the Hind-D/Es during the upgrade included a Garmin 155XL GPS receiver in addition to Bendix King KTU-709 TACAN and Bendix King KNR-634A VOR/ILS/MB (VHF omni-range/instrument landing system/marker beacon) receivers, and power cables plus a docking station for a hand-held Garmin 296 GPS receiver in the front cockpit.
Other new equipment included in the Hind-D/E upgrade package included a Radwar SC10-D2 IFF transponder and S-2-3a quick-access flight data recorder, while the Hind-Es also received the new-generation Ukrainian-made KT-01AW Adros continuously operating ‘disco-light’ IR jammer. Intended to defeat a wide variety of heat-seeking MANPADS, the omnidirectional Adros emitter is installed on the upper rear fuselage, replacing the original L-166B1A IR jammer.
During their overhauls at WZL-1 together with the upgrade, the entire Hind-D/E fleet is reported to have received newly-built, Ukrainian-made TV3-117VMA-SBM1V engines with improved power rate and extended time between overhauls for better hot-and-high performance.
An effort to equip the Mi-24Ws with a modern self-protection suite to complement the KT-01AW jammer and ASO-2V chaff/flare dispensers reportedly failed, despite the considerable time and money spent on it. It was to be provided by the Danish company Terma, selected in 2010 as preferred bidder in a tender to supply integrated self-defense systems to counter heat-seeking MANPADSs.
The Polish MoD requirement called for an up-to-date self-protection system for the Mi-17 and Mi-24 fleets. Terma offered a derivative of its proven, pod-mounted Modular Aircraft Survivability Equipment (MASE) system, and an US $30 million contract was inked in August 2010. It covered supply and integration of 22 sets of aircraft equipment (including seven for the Mi-17 and 15 for the Mi-24W) – in addition to 12 more pods containing missile approach warning sensors and countermeasures dispensers.
The Mi-24W would be modified to carry the pods on its wingtip vertical endplates. The starboard pod housed three AN/ALR-60 Missile Launch Detection System sensors, and the port unit – two. The pods were also equipped with 30-round AN/ALE-47 flare dispensers. Flight tests of the system began in Poland in July 2011, but the contract with Terma was ultimately terminated by mutual consent. The reason for this was said to be an unresolved dispute concerning the interpretation of the contractual requirements on false alarms.
In 2018, the Polish MoD began to consider new upgrade plans for its aging Mi-24 fleet, due to the serious delay of the Kruk program, intended to select and purchase new-generation attack helicopters, with deputy defense minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz hinting that a limited upgrade would be pursued. As a result, on January 21, 2019, the Polish Armament Inspectorate announced the launch of the so-called technical dialogue with companies interested in the Mi-24D/W upgrade. This dialogue was held between July and September 2019, with the technical specification sent to selected interested candidates in the form of a request for information. The upgrade was intended to cover the armament, communications, self-protection, IFF and navigation systems, with the Armament Inspectorate requesting information on the procurement cost and life-cycle costs, logistic requirements and the time for implementation of the upgrade.
In addition, the interested bidders shall prove that they possess experience in the maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade of the Mi-24W and Mi-24D helicopters. The number of helicopters to be cycled through the future upgrade was not declared. The ages of the current Hind fleet are ranging from 27 to 37 years.
A serious issue currently handicapping the Polish Hind fleet is the lack of ATGMs as the existing stocks of 9M114 Shturm-V and 9M17P Falanga missiles were finally depleted by 2011; so, the Polish Hind fleet currently lacks any meaningful anti-armor capabilities. The list of the new armament requirements is believed to also include 70 mm NATO-standard rockets.
The nose-mounted YakB-12.7 machine gun was also described as increasingly difficult to obtain spare parts for it. WZL-1 came with a possible replacement solution, by offering a single-barrel 12.7 mm WKM-B machine gun, produced in Poland and using NATO-standard ammunition, to be installed into the Mi-24’s existing USPU turret. In turn, TDA, a subsidiary of Thales Group, in partnership with local companies, has been offering the IRS short-range laser-guided rockets, launched from the Telson 22 pod, sporting a range of up to 2.7 nautical miles (5 km).
Serbia – new Mi-35Ms expected this year
In 1998–1999, the then Yugoslavian Ministry of Interior used a pair of Mi-24Vs, procured earlier in the decade second-hand from Ukraine, in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in the breakaway province of Kosovo. After the abrupt end of the Kosovo war of 1999, these Hind-Es were promptly transferred to the Yugoslavian Air Force, and were then inherited by the Serbian Air Force, established after the dissolution of the Yugoslavian state in 2006 into two independent countries – Serbia and Montenegro. In fact, the helicopters were grounded already during the early 2000s due to exhausted service life, and there were no attempts to return them into flightworthy condition.
In January 2019, it was revealed by Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic that there was an agreement in place with Russia to supply four newly-built Mi-35M attack helicopters and three Mi-17V-5 tactical helicopters, with delivery was completed by the end of 2019 ahead of schedule.
According to Vucic, this purchase, together with the expected delivery of nine Airbus Helicopters H145Ms, will seriously bolster the country’s military helicopter fleet.
Serbia is the tenth export customer for the Mi-35M, a vastly improved Hind derivative, launched in production since 2007, featuring an improved armor protection, more powerful engines, more efficient main and tail rotor systems and a sophisticated digital mission avionics package for day/night operation, including deployment of the 9M120 Ataka-V anti-tank guided missiles (using radio-command guidance) at distances of up to 3.13 n.m (5.8 km) and NVG compatibility.
A total of five H145Ms are to be taken on strength by the Serbian Air Force and four more are to be delivered to the Ministry of Interior under a contract inked in December 2016. Their delivery was completed by the end of 2019 as planned.
The Serbian Air Force’s H145Ms will be equipped with the HForce Generic Weapon System, which will use locally-made Serbian weapons such as gun pods with a single-barrel 12.7 mm machine gun and seven-round pods for firing 80 mm S8 rockets, also locally produced in Serbia, plus the latest Serbian-made version of the Malyutka ATGM. The first H145M was accepted by the Serbian MoD in November 2018, but its delivery to Serbia took place in June 2019.
The Republic of North Macedonia received a fleet of a dozen of second-hand Mi-24 helicopters to meet an urgent need thanks to a military-technical cooperation agreement signed with Ukraine in March 2001. The attack helicopters were badly needed to participate in counter-insurgency operations against the ethnic Albanian militants which commenced an armed operation against the government forces in February that year.
The first pair of Mi-24Vs arrived in Macedonia a few days after signing the agreement with Ukraine and the helicopters were immediately rushed in combat, supporting the ground troops. In these combat sorties the Mi-24s were flown by Ukrainian mercenary pilots, who later on provided conversion-to-type training for their Macedonian colleagues. Four more Mi-24Vs followed in April and June that year. Then two more Mi-24Vs were taken in September while December saw the arrival of two Mi-24K, the specialized battlefield reconnaissance and artillery fire correction Hind version. Thus, the Mi-24 fleet in Macedonia reached 12 aircraft, grouped in an anti-tank helicopter squadron, based at Petrovec airfield near Skopje.
A contract was signed in February 2005, covering upgrade of four Macedonian Air Force Mi-24Vs under the so-called Alexander project. It called for the integration during the first phase of the program of the ANVIS/HUD-24 system (a helmet-mounted display and sighting system), introduction of cockpit and external NVG compatibility as well as a Trimble GPS receiver.
The second upgrade phase called for integration of NATO/ICAO-standard navigation equipment (VOR/ILS/DME receivers), a moving digital map, the Elbit Systems’ own CoMPASS IV high-performance multi-sensor turret (with thermal imaging camera, TV camera, auto tracker and laser rangefinder), a Rockwell Collins RT-82000 V/UHF radio and an IFF transponder. The helicopter’s nose-mounted machine gun was slaved to the CoMPASS IV payload. The cockpits also received two 6x8 in multi-functional displays.
The third upgrade phase included the introduction of pilot head-cueing system for both the sensor turret and machine gun. At the same time, the upgrade removed the equipment supporting the use of the Ataka-V ATGMs and the original ballistic computer in order to save weight. This full-standard upgrade was implemented on two helicopters only.
By 2005, the Macedonian Mi-24 fleet was reduced to eight helicopters. The maintenance of the fleet proved to be a serious challenge, with all the helicopters grounded in 2015 and 2016. A contract for the overhaul of six Mi-24s at Aviakon plant in Konotop (Ukraine) was inked in June 2016. After the overhaul, combined with life extension, these machines could be expected to be good for use until the mid-2020s.
As of April 2019, there was no confirmed information for return of the first pair of Macedonian Mi-24s from overhaul in Ukraine. It could be speculated with a high probability that the serious delay has been caused by the lack of spare parts (originally produced in Russia) required to be installed during the overhaul, as the Russian government had imposed in 2014 an embargo on selling military goods to Ukraine.
Author - Alexander Mladenov
©New defence order. Strategy №5 (64) 2020