Russia’s attack helicopters are stepping up their game

Omar Adan

Global Courant

Battered in the opening stages of the war in Ukraine, Russia’s attack helicopter fleet now has new technology and tactics to slow down Ukraine’s ongoing offensive.

This month Eurasian Times claimed that a Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter with the Vitebsk-25 suite of countermeasures recently evaded 18 missiles during a combat mission in Ukraine, jammed the missiles, completed its mission and returned to base unscathed.

Eurasian Times states that Vitebsk-25 consists of an infrared (IR) missile tracker and laser countermeasures, supplemented by a flare dispenser to blind IR missiles. It also says the system can detect and block threats across 120 degrees azimuth and 60 degrees elevation, blocking radar frequencies from 4 to 18 gigahertz.

- Advertisement -

In describing how the system works, Eurasian Times says Vitebsk-25 works in passive and active modes. In passive mode, the report notes that the system scans an area with radar, radar and laser warning receivers, and IR and ultraviolet (UV) sensors, and automatically releases chaff and flares if a missile launch is detected.

In active mode, the source states that Vitebsk-25 directly engages the IR seeker warhead of an incoming missile, possibly blinding it by laser.

The system could also be effective against multi-mode missiles, as the source says it uses powerful jamming to disrupt radar-guided missiles, forcing them to switch to IR guidance and go after decoy flares.

Comparable Western systems may include the Common Infrared Countermeasures (CIRCM) suite installed on more than 100 U.S. Army helicopters.

The Aviationist notes in a March 2023 article that CIRCM works by “receiving an angle bearing transmission from the missile warning system (MWS), uses a targeting and tracking system that acquires the transferred threat and tracks the incoming missile during and after engine burnout. CIRCM blocks the missile by using modulated laser energy in the missile seeker band, which reduces the missile’s tracking ability and causes the aircraft to miss the aircraft.”

- Advertisement -

An attack helicopter is one of the most powerful armor-killing weapons on the modern battlefield. Frank Barnaby honey in the book The Role and Control of Weapons in the 1990s that one helicopter in battle should be able to destroy 17 times its worth in tanks before being killed, not including the cost of supporting and maintaining the tanks.

Russia operates several models of attack helicopters, including the Mi-24, Mi-28 and Ka-52. A November 2022 report from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) notes that Russia initially used its attack helicopters to conduct aggressive hunter-killer sorties up to 50 kilometers behind the Ukrainian front lines, but was forced to change tactics due to heavy casualties.

Of the Russian attack helicopter fleet, the RUSI report notes that the Ka-52 has seen more heavy use than other models, noting that this may be due to the use of the 9K121 Vikhr anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), which has a rear- focused laser receiver compared to traditional ATGMs.

- Advertisement -

A Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter. Photo: Twitter / The Aviationist

The report says the guidance configuration causes the 9K121 Vikhr to “look back” at the launch helicopter to “see” the latter’s laser guidance beam, making it nearly impossible to get stuck in flight and cheaper than comparable models.

In terms of losing, Kyle Mizokami points out in a May 2023 Popular Mechanics article that at the time of writing, Russia has lost 62 attack helicopters, with up to 30 Ka-52 helicopters downed, representing 30% of Russia’s entire fleet of the type.

Mizokami attributes those losses to small arms, man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and anti-aircraft guns, with attack helicopters lacking the speed of attack aircraft and the armor of tanks, making them vulnerable targets.

However, a combination of depleted Ukrainian air defenses and improved Russian tactics may have changed the situation in favor of Russian attack helicopters.

Jordan Cohen and Jonathan Ellis Allen noted in a February 2023 Cato Institute article that Ukraine succeeded in the air war early in the conflict by denying Russia air superiority using short-range air defense systems (SHORAD).

However, Cohen and Allen mention that Russia has changed its approach by using relentless missile and drone strikes to force Ukraine’s previously undetectable mobile air defenses to reveal themselves by firing at numerous low-value targets, making themselves vulnerable targets and wasting precious missile supplies.

Ukraine may be experiencing a shortage of SHORAD systems. In an April 2023 Center for Strategic and International Studies articlenotes Mark Cancian that Ukraine had only a small number of SHORAD systems before the war, which are now probably exhausted.

While Cancian mentions that Ukraine has received large numbers of SHORAD systems from the US, France, Germany and Poland, he says US Joint Staff documents leaked that month show that Ukraine has only 190 US-made Stinger missiles left. has, which points to many gaps in Ukraine’s frontline air defense.

In an article this monththe Warzone notes that Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar cited the threat posed by Russian air and artillery superiority to the ongoing counteroffensive.

In particular, the source notes that Ukraine seemingly lacks forward-positioned SHORAD mobile systems, creating dead zones in which Russian attack helicopters can operate freely against Ukrainian armor.

A SHORAD system went from Poland to Ukraine. Image: Facebook

The British Ministry of Defense (MOD) reported this month that Russia had reinforced its attack helicopter force in southern Ukraine since the start of Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

The British Ministry of Defense says an additional 20 Russian attack helicopters have been deployed to Berdyansk Airport, 100 kilometers behind the front line. It also notes that Russia may already have a temporary advantage with helicopter gunships firing longer-range missiles at ground targets.

Apart from that, Russia has deployed new fighter-killer team tactics for its attack helicopter force.

notes David Ax in a February 2023 Forbes article that Russia deploys its Ka-52s and Mi-28s to complement each other’s countermeasures. Ax mentions that the Ka-52 has countermeasures against laser and IR guided missiles.

The Mi-28, on the other hand, has countermeasures against radar-guided missiles, allowing them to defend each other against various air threats.


Like it Loading…

Russia’s attack helicopters are stepping up their game

Asia Region News ,Next Big Thing in Public Knowledg

Share This Article