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Pakistan and combat helicopters in the war against terrorism

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World Defense & Security News - Russia & Pakistan
 
 
Pakistan and combat helicopters in the war against terrorism
 
The role of combat helicopters on the modern battlefield is expanding due to the increasing Islamic State`s (IS) terroristic group activity and the anti-terroristic coalition`s backlash. Several countries from the Persian Gulf, the Near East and the Central Asia regions are paying a lot of attention to the issue, acquiring the modern Russian, US, and European helicopters to provide close air support to their own forces and effective destruction of the IS`s facilities.
     
Pakistan and combat helicopters in the war against terrorism 640 004Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter
     
At the same time, several countries are relying on obsolete Cold war-age platforms in fighting with Islamic State and other terroristic groups. One of such states is Pakistan, which continues to be a perspective customer for Russian combat helicopters.

There are several countries from the aforementioned regions, now fighting against IS. This list includes Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrein, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan as the Near Eastern and Asian partners of the European members of the coalition. Helicopters play an important role in counter-terroristic actions (CTA). The air campaign of the Russian VKS (Vozdushno-Kosmicheskie Sily) against IS in Syria, being supported by several Mi-24Ps (Hind), proves their combat value.

From the aforementioned countries, Saudi Arabia has the strongest rotor-wing aircraft fleet. It comprises 15 helicopters, including 12 AH-64D Apache Longbow and three AH-64E Apache Guardian. The UAE has 30 AH-64Ds in its fleet. The Syria`s armed forces have 24 Mi-25s (export modification of Soviet Mi-24 Hind).

Iraq has recently upgraded its rotor-wing aircraft fleet, having received 16 Mi-35Ms and 11 Mi-28NE "Night Hunter" (Havoc-B) helicopters. According to the signed agreement, Russia is to supply to Iraq 24 Mi-35Ms and 19 Mi-28NEs in total before the midst of 2016.

Turkey has one of the strongest rotorcraft fleet in the region. It includes 18 AH-1Ps (Cobra), 12 AH-1S (Cobra), 6 AH-1W (Cobra), 4 TAH-1P (Cobra). The Turkish Aerospace Industries company (TAI) has started to supply the newest T-129 ATAK helicopters to the national armed forces. As of August 2015, nine T-129s had been delivered. Turkey`s armed forces intend to get 59 ATAKs in total, covering the requirement for modern combat helicopters. Pakistan has 38 AH-1F/S Cobras and one Mi-24 (in store). The Jordan`s rotor-wing aircraft fleet includes 25 AH-1Fs. The Bahrein`s Air Force has 16 AH-1Es, 12 AH-1Fs, 6 TAH-1Ps.

Now two countries are heavily relying on army aviation in fighting against terrorism, namely, Iraq and Pakistan. Baghdad has decided to buy modern helicopters, including well-protected Mi-28NEs. At the same time, the Islamabad`s rotor-wing aircraft fleet is suffering from several troubles. The obsolete Cobras supplied to Pakistan in 1984-1986 do not fully withstand the pressure of fighting against IS. Their level of protection fails to meet the modern standards. The AH-1F/S payload is limited to 1500 kg, and only four or eight AGM-114 Hellfire guided missiles can be installed.

Pakistan is suffering from the lack of spare parts for Cobras. This technical problem reduces the effectiveness of the Pakistan`s combat helicopter fleet backbone. AH-1F/S are becoming obsolete, and the upgrade of the Cobras seems to be unpractical. Therefore, now Islamabad is feeling a deep need in new combat rotor-wing aircraft acquisition.

Pakistan is actively seeking new ways to get helicopters for the national armed forces. Having declined the appropriate Islamabad`s requests for several times, In April 2015 the U.S. State Department took the final decision to approve the sales of 15 AH-1Z Vipers to Pakistan (previously Washington had declined the appropriate request for the helicopters several times for the reasons of human rights infringement by Islamabad). AH-1Z payload (2620 kg) is at the level of Mi-35V and Mi-28NE. Nevertheless, the Viper`s ballistic and missile protection is weaker in comparison with the "Night Hunter". At the same time, the AH-1Z`s price tag is significantly higher than the Mi-28NE`s one.
     
Pakistan and combat helicopters in the war against terrorism 640 006CAIC Z-10 attack helicopter
     
Pakistan is also conducting negotiations with China to acquire rotor-wing aircraft. In particular, Islamabad took the delivery of three Z-10 combat helicopters from Chinese company CAIC (Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation). Nevertheless, the combat effectiveness of these rotorcraft is being doubted by some Western analytics. They have never been tested in combat environment. Z-10 carries smaller payload (approximately 1500 kg) in comparison with Mi-35M, Mi-28NE, or AH-1Z. It is equipped with two WZ-9 engines, which come short of power in comparison with Russian Klimov VK-2500-2 and US General Electric T700-GE-401C. Being underpowered, Z-10 cannot fly with full payload.

Meanwhile, modern well-protected helicopters are strongly sought-for. According to the investigation conducted by US Department of Defence-led Joint Aircraft Survivability Program Office (JASPO) and Institute for Defence Analyses (IDA), man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) and rocket-propelled RPG grenades pose the most significant threat to rotor-wing aircraft on the modern battlefield. JASPO and IDA have come to the conclusion, that in the course of Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively) operations (OEF/OIF) between October 2001 and September 2009 combat losses (including aircraft shootdown by enemy fire) accounted for 19 % of all loses. Meanwhile, different mishaps accounted for the remaining 81 %. 73 % of fatalities occurred in combat theater. In total, 496 accidents took place within the prescribed period, and 375 rotor-wing aircraft were lost.

In comparison with the Vietnam War, the losses/flight time ratio reduced by seven times and consisted 2,71 lost helicopters for 100000 flight hours (reduction by seven times). Nevertheless, this figure excels the limit set by the US Congress and Pentagon (0,5 lost rotor-wing aircraft for 100000 flight hours).

The US armed forces have lost in combat 70 helicopters within the prescribed period. Different mishaps during combat during accounted for 157 rotor-wing aircraft. 148 more helicopters were lost in non-combat environment.

The losses of AH-64A/AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters in the aforementioned conflicts are important for the estimation of modern helicopters` combat effectiveness on the battlefield. Between October, 2001 and September, 2009 11 AH-64s in Iraq and Afghanistan were lost due to the enemy fire: two in 2003, two in 2004, one in 2005, three in 2006, three in 2007. Different mishaps in combat environment accounted for 31 more Apaches: two in 2002, six in 2003, five in 2004, seven in 2005, four in 2006, six in 2007, and one in 2009. The US armed forces lost 26 rotor-wing aircraft in non-hostile environment within the prescribed period: seven in 2002, three in 2003, three in 2004, seven in 2005, two in 2006, three in 2007, and one in 2009. In total, the US armed forces lost 68 AH-64A/AH-64D between October, 2001 and September, 2009, including 11 in combat environment (16 %).

The ageing AH-1 Cobra/Super Cobra helicopters also suffered some combat losses during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, namely, five rotor-wing aircraft. One AH-1 was lost in 2003, two in 2004, one in 2006, one in 2008. Non-hostile mishaps accounted for 5 Cobras: one in 2002, two in 2003, one in 2004, one in 2009. In total, the US armed forces lost 15 AH-1s between October 2001 and September 2009, including five in combat environment (33 %).

Modern researches point out the reduction of all types of rotor-wing aircraft losses in Iraq and Afghanistan in comparison with the Vietnam War. This trend was defined by the installation of new equipment and avionics, additional armour of cockpit, protected and shockproof fuel systems. In particular, UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter can fly for at least 30 minutes, having been hit by a single 7,62mm armour-piercing incendiary bullet. AH-64A/AH-64D`s armour protection is significantly heavier.

Small arms and light weapons (SALW) have been the most significant threat to the helicopters both in Vietnam and in Iraq/Afghanistan. SALW accounted for 94 % of combat losses during the Vietnam War and for 31 % during the OIF/OEF. SALW is supposed to be the most significant threat to rotor-wing aircraft in the years to come. The danger, emanating from MANPADS and rocket-propelled grenades has increased. Modern combat helicopters are heavily protected from bullets, meanwhile being relatively vulnerable to MANPDAS missiles.

Within the prescribed period the Iraqi and Afghanistan militants didn`t use radar-guided missile systems or anti-aircraft (AA) guns. The most powerful AA means, exploited by them, were MANPADS. Nevertheless, the sphere of the IS`s influence is spreading, and the terroristic group can get surface-to-air missile systems (SAM) in the near future, and the threat emanating from this kind of weapons may increase. Moreover, the video records produced by IS point out that the terrorists have weapons captured from the Iraqi government forces. Therefore, IS may obtain SAM systems. In this case Supercobras/Vipers and Mi-35Ms will remain short of Mi-28NEs and AH-64D/Es.

The US experts recommend equipping combat helicopters with electronic warfare systems, IR jammers and other countermeasures, flares, anti-blast seats for crew, threat detection systems, missile-warning equipment, and fly-by-wire systems. The upgrade of helicopters` crashworthiness level is also suggested. Therefore, Mi-28NEs being already equipped with the aforementioned hardware would have superiority over Mi-35Ms in fighting against IS in the regions of the Near East and Asia.

Mi-35M is the latest modification of the world-famous Hind, while Mi-28NE is a helicopter designed from the scratch with a glance to the Afghan war (1979-1989) combat experience. The conditions of this conflict are similar to those of war against the IS terroristic group.
     
Pakistan and combat helicopters in the war against terrorism 640 002Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopter
     
Mi-28NE`s gun weapon has several advantages over the Mi-35M`s one. Night Hunter is equipped with NPPU-28 gun mount with 30mm 2A42 gun (widely used in Russian armed forces BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle is also equipped with 2A42 gun). Its ammunition load includes 300 rounds. 2A42 uses four types of ammunition, namely armour-piercing (AP) 3UBR6 and 3UBR8, high-explosive (HE) fragmentation incendiary 3UOF8, fragmentation incendiary 3UOR6. 3UBR6 and 3UBR8 shells can effectively hit armoured vehicles at the 1000 m and 1500 m, relatively. Foreign operators of 2A42 gun also have an option to use armour piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) shells produced by Swiss, Belgian, Bulgarian, Czech, and Slovak companies. 2A42 gun can hit personnel targets at the 2000-4000 m (depending on the type of shell).

In comparison with Night Hunter, the Mi-35M`s gun weapon is less powerful. The helicopter is equipped with NPPU-23 gun mount with 23mm GSh-23L gun. Its ammunition load includes 450 rounds. GSh-23L uses several types of ammunition, namely, HE tracer OFZ-23-AM-GSh, HE incendiary tracer OFZT-23-AM-GSh, AP incendiary tracer BZT-23-AM-GSh and BZT-23-GSH, HE incendiary FZ-23-GSh and FZ-23-GSh-N, AP explosive BR-23-AMGSh, multiple-element ME-23-GSh.

In the terms of armour penetration and behind-armour-effect, 23x115mm rounds of GSh-23L are inferior to 30x165mm rounds of 2A42. GSh-23L can hit hard targets at 1000-1500 m, and soft targets - at 2000 m. Only Russian and Chinese batch-produced aircraft are equipped with GSh-23/GH-23L. Therefore, the range of foreign ammunition types for the gun is restricted, and the aforementioned Russian rounds are delivered with helicopters and planes to foreign customers. GSh-23L has only one advantage over 2A42, namely, the ability to fire multiple-element round ME-23-GSh. It has a high degree of effectiveness against personnel targets and uncovered aircraft. Therefore, Mi-28N`s gun weapon is more effective in fighting against terroristic groups than the Mi-35M`s one.

The Night Hunter`s payload (2400 kg) significantly exceeds the Hind-M`s one (2100 kg). In addition to that, Mi-28NE can use more types of weapons.

Mi-35M`s range of armament subsystems includes UPK-23 gun pods with two GSh-23L guns (250 rounds per pod), B8V20-A 20-tube unguided rocket launchers for 80mm S-8 family of rockets, B13L1 5-tube unguided rocket launchers for 122mm S-13 family of rockets, up to 16 AT-6 Spiral or AT-9 Spiral-2 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) in two pods. Mi-28NE can also use the aforementioned systems. While Mi-35M is equipped with AT-6 ATGMs as the standard anti-tank weapon, Mi-28NE uses AT-9. Night Hunter also can fire air-to-air 9M39 Igla-V missiles included in the Strelets system.

Mi-28NE`s level of protection significantly increases the Mi-35M`s one. In comparison with Mi-24V, Mi-35M`s armour hasn`t been essentially upgraded. During the Afghan war DShK, M2/M2HB machineguns, and ZGU-1, ZPU-1/ZPU-2/ZPU-4, ZU-23-2 AA guns posed the main threat to the Soviet Mi-24Vs. The aforementioned weapon can effectively hit not only the previous Hind modification, but also Mi-35Ms.
     
Pakistan and combat helicopters in the war against terrorism 640 001TAI T129 ATAK attack helicopter
     
During the development of Mi-28NE, its designers payed significant attention to the helicopter`s ballistic protection. Two VK-2500-2 engines are separated and shielded by the airframe components. The blades of both main and auxiliary rotors are made of durable composites. The fueling, hydraulic, and pneumatic mains are duplicated. Moreover, the less important Mi-28NE`s subsystems cover the more important ones. The helicopter`s pore spaces are filled with foamed material. The crew received armoured cabin and anti-blast seats with parachute rescue system. Mi-28NE is equipped with inflatable air bags to prevent collision of the crew with landing gear in case of emergency escape. Special attention was payed to fire protection, namely, fuel tanks and inflammable sections. Mi-28NE is supposed to get energy-attenuating landing gear. The helicopter`s canopy and cabin are protected from 12,7mm AP and 20mm/23mm HE-I rounds. The rotor blades can withstand several hits of 30mm HE rounds. Therefore the Mi-28NE`s probability of being hit by heavy machinegun and small-caliber guns has been reduced. Therefore, ZU-23-2 (supposed to be the most widespread AA gun of IS) should spend significantly more time and rounds to shoot down Night Hunter.

Mi-28NE is also equipped with modern onboard defence system, which includes laser/radar warning system (there is an option of missile warning installation). To increase the chance of MANPADS missiles avoiding, President-S electronic jamming station can be optionally fitted.

The Mi-28NE`s endurance toward MANPADS missiles has significantly increased in comparison with Mi-35M. Modern insurgent and terroristic group are shoring up their anti-air defence systems. Previously they had Soviet SA-7 Grails and US FIM-92A Stingers. At the time, IS is supposed to have 250-400 MANPADS (including FIM-92, FN-6, SA-7, SA-18, SA-24) and huge numbers of ZU-23-2 AA gun, DShK and M2HB machineguns. SA-24 MANPADS, captured by IS terrorists from the Syrian government armed forces pose the most significant threat to combat helicopters. The Chinese FN-6 MANPADS, acquired by Qatar for the Free Syrian Army and subsequently handed over to IS, should not be underestimated. At least, one Iraqi Mi-35M equipped with Ukrainian KT-01-AVE Adros electronic jamming station was shot down by FN-6 in October, 2014. IS also has several 23mm ZSU-23-4 Shilka self-propelled AA guns and 57mm AZP-57 towing AA guns.

Therefore, the Islamic State is rapidly beefing up its air defence. The terrorist group is supposed to follow such a trend in the near future. As a result, the heavy-protected combat helicopters (for instance, Mi-28NE) are required by anti-IS government forces to carry on air strikes.
     
Pakistan and combat helicopters in the war against terrorism 640 003Mil Mi-28NE attack helicopter
     
Pakistan is moving toward the acquisition of the Russian combat helicopters. During Dubai Airshow 2015 exhibition the Rostec Corporation`s director general Sergei Chemezov told, that Pakistan would start to receive the ordered Mi-35Ms in 2016. Islamabad gives a high rating to the Russian combat rotor-wing aircraft, as the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) state company`s head, Air Marshal Javaid Ahmed told the European Defence Review during the Dubai airshow. "The quality of Russian defence production is outstanding," Ahmed said.

He pointed out, that Pakistan was working with Russian industry in several areas. "I hope, we will see breakthrough on several issues in the following next months," he pointed out. "Pakistan has recently acquired Russian Mi-35M combat helicopters. I suppose this deal is a king of progress (in Russian-Pakistan relations)", Ahmed added.

The PAC`s head highly appreciated Russian rotor-wing aircraft. "Previously, we acquired Mi-171 utility helicopters from Russia. They revealed to be reliable aircraft in our sandy climate conditions. We are reviewing some options to work closely with several Russian companies," Ahmed said.

He added, that Pakistan`s armed forces were demanding modern helicopters in relatively large quantities. "We are extensively using our rotor-wing aircraft in operations against terrorists. To this end, we need every piece of Russian defense production," the PAC`s head underscored.

Pakistan is ready to promote the military-technical cooperation with Russia, confirmed Pakistan Air Force`s (PAF) commander, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman during Dubai Airshow 2015. "The PAF are open for cooperation, we are eager to establish good relationship with different countries," Aman said. "We are estimating the probability to fulfill several projects, including those with Russia," he added.

"Why not? We should beef up relations with different countries, giving a helping hand and complementing each other. Aircraft engines constitute only one aspect of defense production. We should develop cooperation," Ahmed said. Therefore, the Pakistan military authorities are demonstrating their willingness to acquire and use Russian rotor-wing aircraft.
     
Pakistan and combat helicopters in the war against terrorism 640 005Mil Mi-35M attack helicopter
     
Taking into account the aforementioned data, several conclusions can be made. The modern battlefield requires for combat helicopters equipped with heavy ballistic protection and integrated EW suits. To hit armor and personnel targets effectively, these rotor-wing aircraft should have gun weapon, ATGMs, and unguided rockets. The required payload is supposed to be more, than 2000-2300 kg. The modern combat helicopters should be equipped with two spaced-apart engines, each having at least 2000 h.p.

Taking into account the financial constraints, as well as abovementioned requirements, Pakistan has only two options to be chosen from, namely, Russian Mi-28NE Night Hunter or US AH-1Z Viper. Both helicopters are at the same level in the terms of combat characteristics. Nevertheless, Mi-28NE has three key advantages over AH-1Z, namely, improved reliability in mountain and desert regions, less expensive life cycle cost, simplified requirements for crew training. In keeping with the aforementioned approach, the cost-effectiveness criterion seems to be the pivotal one, as different mishaps, not enemy fire account for most of combat helicopter losses on the modern battlefield.

The exploitation of AH-1Zs during OEF/OIF revealed that dust, sand and hot climate limited the operations of these helicopters. At the same time, Russian-made counterparts, namely, Mi-28NEs and Mi-35Ms presented themselves well in several countries of the Near East and Central Asia regions. On that premise, Russian combat helicopters seems to be the best option for the Pakistan`s armed forces in terms of fighting against terrorism.
     
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