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Helicopters of the Warsaw Pact

Written by Sakhal

The Soviets took advantage from a western idea and a well-intentioned gift from an American president to create a powerful threat. Starting from a passenger helicopter Sikorsky VH-3 that United States president Dwight D. Eisenhower gave as a gift to Soviet prime minister Nikita Kruschev, the Soviets eventually developed the attack/assault helicopter Mil Mi-24, of which about 750 units existed in the early 1980s. The last versions of this helicopter were then considered as the most advanced attack helicopter in service.

Heavily armed with weapons hanging on its short wings and built with a redesigned turret in the nose, the Hind D, an advanced version of the Mil Mi-24, is a helicopter that shows a formidable aspect. Merely its size was impressive: it weighed 10 tonnes in comparison with the 4.5 tonnes of the American AH-1S. On the wings, four anti-tank missiles AT-2 Swatter were mounted in the outer pylons and in the inner pylons, four rocket pods containing 32 rockets of 57 millimeters each. The turret on the nose was armed with a 12.7-millimeter machine gun of the Gatling type. Its cruising speed was estimated in 195 kilometers/hour and its combat radius, at full load, in 100 kilometers. The range of its anti-tank missiles and rockets was estimated in 3500 meters. The Hind D were organized in regiments of 44 or 52 helicopters each, being the basic attack element a four-unit squadron. It was estimated that the training was oriented to the approximation at very low altitude (5 or 10 meters) to the target. In a certain moment, the helicopters would ascend to an altitude between 20 and 100 meters and attack the target from a distance of 2000 to 3000 meters. Seemingly, Soviet military commanders believed this to be the adequate tactic to keep the Hind out of the range of the air defenses of the NATO. When a new model fitted with launching rails appeared, it was supposed that more advanced anti-tank missiles or air-to-air missiles would be equipped on it. Besides, the Hind was designed not only to be an attack helicopter but to be as well capable of carrying up to ten infantry soldiers fully equipped.

Helicopters of the Warsaw Pact

Mil Mi-24 "Hind" D, armed with AT-2 Swatter anti-tank missiles and UB-32 rockets.

In the NATO it was speculated about the threat that, for the airfields and other key targets in Europe, would suppose an attack from these helicopters, combined with fighter aircraft of high prestations and other troop transport helicopters. And besides, the threat towards those same targets constituted by the Soviet airborne divisions. There were, however, a number of objections against these theories. It was said that the helicopter, in its current state of development, was not an attractive weapon facing direct attack operations, since it would be probable that it stumbled with a high density of anti-aircraft defenses. The American losses in Vietnam, despite the relatively weak threat of anti-aircraft defenses, served as an indication of this. On the other hand, the penetration of ground troops from the Warsaw Pact towards the rearguard of the NATO could not reduce significantly the risk of the helicopters as far as the NATO would be able to keep disputing the control of the air. Albeit initial studies considered that low-flying helicopters were a target of little interest for fighter aircraft of high prestations, the development of combat search and direction systems (AWACS and others) would change things. Finally, gunship helicopters demonstrated a higher effectiveness in anti-guerrilla operations; the Soviet Union was compromised in such kind of fight in Afghanistan. If Soviet forces would have to face new sublevations in Eastern Europe, the Hind and other supporting aircraft could have constituted a more economic alternative in comparison with the armored divisions that could be involved in a battlefront. In a strategical sense, the attack helicopters would become the "rear coverage machine guns" formerly used by Soviet forces to cover their advance. It should be considered, moreover, that the most promising areas for strategic utilization at large scale with probabilities of success of the new aero-mobile technology were not located in Europe, but in the Persian Gulf and in the Sino-Soviet frontier, where existed large areas lacking aerial defense in which helicopter units could operate with very limited risk. Hence, the Soviets could have exploited this to perform a massive attack with formations of helicopters in any place along the arch going from Central Europe to Khabarovsk, much before their opponents could readjust their forces.

Less advanced than the Hind D and Hind E, but even more powerfully armed, was the Mil Mi-8 "Hip" E. This helicopter, whose production was started in the early 1960s, was armed with one 12.7-millimeter machine gun in the nose, four anti-tank missiles and 192 rockets of 57 millimeters. In the early 1980s it was estimated that the Soviet forces possessed about 1600 Hip E and another 200 were in service in other countries of the Warsaw Pact. Both the Hind and the Hip were equipped for nocturnal flight, but their capability for night and all-weather combat was deemed as doubtful. Generally it was considered that the Soviet technology in such areas was inferior to the one of the NATO, which would lead to consider wider aspects about the capability of the Soviet fleet of attack helicopters to carry out their fire support role, taking into consideration that operations in European territory, in the event of a conflict, would have perforce a continued character, being prolonged during day and night, which would require to possess the most advanced technology. Climate and terrain, as well as the foreseeable opposition from the enemy, would add more doubts about the aforementioned Soviet tactics. With the climatology of the mountainous terrains, the woodlands and the densely urbanized areas that characterize many parts of Germany and Central Europe in general, it would be very objectable the effectiveness of the helicopters of the Warsaw Pact to keep themselves at very low altitude and reach their firing positions at the distances demanded by their armament, without placing themselves within the land-based anti-aircraft fire. Diversionary attacks performed by attack helicopters, of which large amounts existed then in the ranks of the NATO, would add new doubts regarding the effectiveness of Soviet tactics.

The Soviet Union had occasion to test directly on the field the utilization of a wide range of helicopters - and in particular gunship attack helicopters - in the long war sustained against the guerrillas in Afghanistan. This kind of weapon, used in a wide variety of missions, revealed itself, as it had happened in Vietnam with American helicopters, very effective, albeit the muslim guerrilla claimed to have downed several helicopters. Obviously, it is not the same to fight against non-regular and badly equipped forces than against the armies of the NATO, provided with the best technology in the world and whose forces account with wide experience in these type of operations. Despite that, Soviet helicopters constituted a threat that should not be underestimated. The Hind constituted a considerable reserve of mobile firepower to support counterattacks or to hold enemy penetrations, while the assault helicopters Mi-8 "Hip" E and Mi-17 "Hip" H would allow to disembark troops to attack behind enemy lines or to quickly reinforce attacked positions or sectors. Backing these combat helicopters there were transport helicopters - such as the Mi-6 "Hook" or the huge Mi-26 "Halo" capable of transporting 80 soldiers - and helicopters for electronic war and command/control tasks playing important roles in the rearguard.

Helicopters of the Warsaw Pact

Mil Mi-6 "Hook", large Soviet helicopter capable of lifting a weight of nine tonnes and transporting 60 soldiers.

Developed during the 1980s, the Mil Mi-28 "Havoc" and the Kamov Ka-50 "Hokum" entered service too late to serve in the Soviet Union. The first one was intended to initially complement and eventually replace the Hind in its fire support role on the battlefield. The second one was evaluated to perform a new role for helicopters: air defense in the battlefield against the enemy anti-tank helicopters and ground-strike aircraft flying at low altitudes. The Hokum is, naturally, capable of carrying out different roles, as the rest of the helicopters of the Soviet Army Aviation always were, to face enemy attacks, to prepare and execute counteroffensives and to support combined arms offensives in enemy territory. In the field of anti-submarine warfare, the Soviet Union used a more veteran development from Kamov, the Ka-25 "Hormone". A characteristic of the helicopters built by this manufacturer are the utilization of superimposed coaxial counter-rotative rotors, which allow for a greater lift in a smaller helicopter. The Ka-25 was very well equipped with all-weather anti-submarine sensors and its armament, carried on ventral room, included 400-millimeter anti-submarine torpedoes and conventional or nuclear depth charges. As an emergency safety feature, its four wheels were surrounded by bags that could be quickly inflated by means of gas bottles installed above them. The Ka-25 was carried onboard the ships of the classes Kara, Kiev, Kresta, Leningrad, Minsk and Moskwa and it operated as well from aeronaval bases.

Helicopters of the Warsaw Pact

Kamov Ka-25 "Hormone" A anti-submarine helicopter fitted with sensors in the nose and tail.

Helicopters of the Warsaw Pact

Comparison of combat helicopters from the Warsaw Pact and the NATO, with indication of maximum speed, operational range and troop transport.

Categories: Helicopters - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-01-08

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