Mean Havoc Rising

The Mi-28N is the first new-generation attack helicopter fielded in numbers by the Russian military. The type has also been supplied to two export customers, one of which has used it extensively in combat. Alexander Mladenov visited the Rostvertol plant to profile the helicopter gunship.

The Mi-28N has widely spaced engines in order to prevent them being knocked out by a single hit. Vital systems are either shielded by less important ones, provided with redundancy, or have robust armour protection.
Andrey Zinchuk

The Mi-28N Night Hunter (NATO reporting name Havoc) saw its fair share of combat use during Russia’s campaign in Syria. However, intense testing in real-world combat conditions between 2016 and 2018 revealed a long list of shortcomings; these are now being addressed by introducing numerous small, as well as more extensive, upgrades. At the same time, development of a ‘deeply upgraded’ derivate, the Mi-28NM – set to become the definitive Havoc – has made good progress, and this variant also saw combat trials in Syria in March 2019.

Protracted Development

Inducted to service with the Russian Aerospace Forces’ Army Aviation branch in January 2008, the Mi-28N now equips no fewer than six frontline attack squadrons in addition to one instructor-research squadron that conducts aircrew conversion training and tactics development.

In fact, the enduring and much-troubled Mi-28 programme traces its origins back to the early 1980s, when it was launched as the Soviet Union’s direct response to the development of what is known today as the Boeing AH-64A Apache.

Initially known simply as the Mi-28, then improved as the Mi-28A, the Havoc was built as a heavily armoured attack rotorcraft for day operations with a design layout broadly similar to the Apache. However, the initial Havoc version was never launched into production as it lost the Soviet defence ministry competition for a new-generation attack helicopter to the single-seat Kamov Ka-50 Hokum.

Then, in the early 2000s, newly independent Russia launched another attack helicopter tender, and Mil and Kamov continued their long-standing head-to-head competition, offering new-generation attack helicopters endowed with night combat capability. To the surprise of many, the end result of this expensive and extensive ef ort in the late 2000s was the decision to simultaneously field two new-generation attack machines – the Mi-28N and Ka-52. These would replace the ageing Hind force and would later be complemented by a third type – the Mi-35M.

The Mi-28N attack helicopter employs a conventional gunship configuration with a two-man crew accommodated in narrow, well-armoured tandem cockpits. The gunner sits in the front (lacking controls) with the pilot/commander behind, on an elevated seat.
Andrey Zinchuk
The powerful Shipunov 2A42 gun – here installed in the NPPU-28 turret under the Mi-28N’s nose – has a 900rpm rapid rate of fire, a slow rate of 200-300rpm, and can also be fired using single shots.
Alexander Mladenov

Nocturnal Havoc

The prototype of the Mi-28N (N denoting Nochnoy or night-capable), aircraft OP-1, saw a very protracted development and testing ef ort. Built by Mil in 1995, OP-1 made its maiden flight in November 1996, without most of its intended integrated avionics.The programme progressed at a very slow pace due to severe underfunding and factory testing was reported as completed in 2001. The second prototype, OP-2, didn’t take to the air until March 2004.

Real progress for the Mi-28N development ef ort did not come until 2003. That year, the defence ministry announced that its long-awaited procurement plan for ArmyAviation would include as many as 50 new-generation attack helicopters, to be delivered by 2010.

The Mi-28N’s development and testing ef ort was further accelerated after 2006 as Russia’s defence budget at last allocated funding for the production of a six-helicopter batch to be used in the type’s exhaustive test and evaluation ef ort. The helicopter received the official name Night Hunter.

The first of three initial production Mi-28Ns (aircraft 01-01, ‘32 Yellow’), ordered by the defence ministry for the extensive development and testing work, completed a maiden flight in December 2005.

Then, in March 2006, the defence ministry approved the Mi-28N’s full-rate production at Rostvertol in Rostov-on-Don. The first of the five production-standard Havocs was handed over to the 334th TsBPiPLS, the Army Aviation combat and aircrew conversion training centre, in January 2008.

However, the Mi-28N wasn’t of icially commissioned into Russian military service as a combat-capable weapon until February 2014, after addressing most of the teething troubles that emerged during the testing phase and initial operation with the training and frontline squadrons. The first large-scale production order, dating from 2005, is reported to have included 67 helicopters, while another contract, inked in 2010, called for 30 more; it’s believed there was also at least one small purchase contract for attrition replacements, resulting in additional Mi-28N deliveries reportedly made in 2018 and 2019.

This Mi-28N, taken on strength in 2011, belongs to the 393rd Air Base, renamed in December 2015 as the 55th OVP (Independent Helicopter Regiment).
Russian MoD

In Russian Military Service

The first two Mi-28Ns were ceremonially handed over to Army Aviation’s 334th Combat Training and Aircrew Conversion Centre in Torzhok on January 15, 2008, followed by two more in August that year.

The first frontline attack squadron to be re-equipped with the Mi-28N was established within the structure of the 487th Independent Helicopter Regiment (OVP), stationed at Budyonnovsk in Russia’s Southern Military District (MD). The unit took on strength its first Havocs in March 2009, and by late 2011 its fleet had expanded to 16 units. The squadron declared initial operating capability with the new type for day missions only – in summer 2010.

In October 2010, a batch of eight Mi-28Ns were formally delivered to the 393rd Air Base at Korennovsk, another attack and combat support rotorcraft unit in the Southern MD. In 2011 and 2012, the unit took on strength eight more Mi-28Ns.

The third Mi-28N squadron within Army Aviation was assigned to the 546th Air Base stationed at Rostov-on-Don, also in the Southern MD, which received its initial batch of six attack helicopters in August 2012. In 2015, the unit was moved to Zernograd and transformed into the 16th Army Aviation Brigade.

The fourth squadron equipped with the type was incorporated into the structure of the newly established 15th Army Aviation Brigade (AAB) at Ostrov in the Western MD. It received 12 newly built helicopters between August 2013 and April 2014, and two more are reported to have been accepted in 2019.

The fifth Mi-28N squadron was assigned to the structure of the 549th Air Base at Pribylovo (the base itself is headquartered at Pushkin)near St Petersburg, also in the Western MD, which took on strength its first machines in June 2014. That year, it accepted ten examples and was reported as fully equipped with the new type in 2015. The following year, it was transformed into the 549th OVP.

The Mi-28N was originally designed to be operated in pairs or four-ship formations for CAS and day/night anti-tank missions.
Via Alexander Mladenov

The sixth squadron was established within the structure of the 39th VP, a helicopter regiment stationed at Dzhankoy in the Crimea. It received its helicopters in December 2014, shortly after establishment; the aircraft were taken from the 546th AB fleet.

By April 2019, no fewer than 100 production-standard Mi-28Ns were reported to have rolled off the Rostvertol production line and been taken on strength by Army Aviation. In addition, the service received around 20 Mi-28UBs, and four more were set to follow suit by the end of the year.

Army Aviation has lost three Mi-28Ns so far: the first crashed during a training sortie due to tail gearbox failure in February 2011; the second crashed during a formation display flight (apparently due to a handling mistake) in August 2015; and the third example was lost in a night combat sortie in Syria in April 2017, together with its two crew members. At least two more are known to have sustained heavy damage in hard landings, but were subsequently repaired at Rostvertol and returned to service.

The gunner in the forward cockpit is responsible for navigation, target search and handling both the ATGM system and gun turret. The pilot, in turn, deals with the forward-firing weapons – 80mm and 122mm rockets and 23mm gun pods – and can also fire the 30mm turreted gun when it’s locked in the forward-firing position.
Alexander Mladenov

Havoc at a Glance

The Mi-28N was conceived as an extensively armoured day/night attack helicopter intended for anti-armour warfare and destruction of well-defended and hardened battlefield targets, in addition to a raft of auxiliary taskings such as aerial minelaying, suppression of area targets, destruction of small sea and river vessels and countering low-altitude/slow-speed fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and UAVs.

The helicopter features a five-blade main rotor and a low-noise X-shaped tail rotor. The engines are installed in widely spaced nacelles above each wingroot and their air intakes are provided with mushroom-shaped PZU dust protection devices.All prototypes and pre-production machines – plus a number of the initial production aircraft – were powered by a pair of Klimov TV3-117VMA turboshafts, rated at 2,194shp each in one engine inoperative (OEI) mode.

The Mi-28N’s crew compartment is provided with 10mm thick aluminium alloy armour protection reinforced with ceramic plates, advertised by the designers at Mil MHP as being capable of withstanding hits from 20mm projectiles.

Starting from 2010, all follow-on production examples have used the more powerful Klimov VK-2500-02 engines, a follow-on TV3-117 development, each rated at 2,700shp in OEI conditions, 2,200shp at take-of and 1,500shp in cruise flight.

The new engine improved the speed and rate-of-climb performance, bringing it to the levels as required by the defence ministry’s original technical specification dating from the early 2000s.

Russian attack helicopter employment concepts call for the aircraft to approach the designated target area at high speed and treetop altitude, in order to delay visual detection as long as possible before executing a rapid ‘pop up’ to acquire the target and unleash ordnance in a shallow high-speed dive. According to this concept, when facing enemy air defences, the attack helicopter’s battlefield survivability can be ensured only through extensive armouring of the airframe’s most vulnerable areas, combined with increased manoeuvrability to avoid enemy fire.

The Mi-28N’s Pamir-K energy-attenuating seats, in combination with the energy-attenuating landing gear units, are intended to ensure the crew survive if the helicopter hits the ground with a high vertical speed following combat damage or system failure.
Andrey Zinchuk
By June 2009, no fewer than 12 production-standard Mi-28Ns had been taken on strength by Russian Army Aviation, while Mil MHP operated three more for development testing and for retrofit into enhanced versions for export customers. This example is from the 344th Combat Training and Aircrew Conversion Centre at Torzhok, north of Moscow.
Via Alexander Mladenov

As a result, the 12-tonne Havoc is advertised as able to sustain much heavier combat punishment compared with its Mi-24 predecessor, despite employing exactly the same low-level, close-quarter attack tactics in close air support scenarios.

The helicopter has a two-man crew, accommodated in narrow tandem cockpits, with the gunner-operator sitting in the front and pilot-commander in the rear seat. The crew compartments are provided with 10mm thick aluminium alloy armour, reinforced with ceramic plates. This extensive crew protection is advertised as capable of withstanding hits from 20mm projectiles.

A close-up of the N025E radar for the Mi-28NE.The mast-mounted millimetric-wavelength radar is said to be able to simultaneously track up to four targets. Its maximum detection range against a large metallic bridge is 11nm (20km), while main battle tanks can be detected at up to 5.4nm (10km).
Alexander Mladenov

The windshields of both cockpits are made from armoured glass, 42mm thick, described as strong enough to withstand hits from 12.7mm ammunition, while the flat side windows are 22mm thick, capable of protecting the aircrew from 7.62mm rounds. The composite main rotor blades are also among the most survivable airframe components, reportedly able to sustain hits by projectiles of up to 30mm calibre.

To further increase the chances of aircrew survival in case of mortal helicopter damage, both cockpits feature a novel rescue system centred around Zvezda Pamir-K energy-absorbing seats, used in combination with an energy-attenuating undercarriage, while the cockpit doors, main rotor blades and stub wings are jettisonable. Mil sources claim the Mi-28N’s robust seat/undercarriage combination can ensure survival of the crew in crash landings with a descent rate of up to 40ft per second (12m/second), as impact forces acting on the aircrew members are reduced from 60-58g to only 12g.

A newly built Mi-28N for the Russian Army Aviation undergoes final ground checks at Rostvertol. A functional flight-test programme will follow before its handover to the operator.
Alexander Mladenov

Awaiting Systems Upgrade

In fact, the Mi-28N version – as delivered to Army Aviation between 2009 and 2019 – was built in the so-called interim production configuration with limited operational capabilities, lacking some of the planned mission avionics such as the mast-mounted radar, integrated self-defence suite (so far, only chaf / flare dispensers and a laser warning receiver are installed on the Mi-28N) and helmet-mounted cueing system.All of these advanced systems are still in development and could be added at a later stage, if and when the defence ministry decides to fund a comprehensive mid-life upgrade programme for the fleet.

The Mi-28N introduced an all-digital BREO-28N integrated avionics suite with night-vision/all-weather targeting capability. The pilot cockpit features two MFI-106M multifunctional LCD displays to present flight and navigation information, airframe/engine system data, weapon stations status and targeting information.

By May 2019, the total number of Night Hunters taken on strength by the Russian air arm had reached around 120, excluding developmental test examples. This one, ‘White 71’, is operated by the 15th BAA at Ostrov in the Western Military District, as part of a mixed fleet of Night Hunters and Mi-35Ms, as seen in the background.
Alexander Mladenov

In addition, the pilot uses an ILS-28 head-up display to aim his forward-firing weapons. The gunner-operator’s workplace has three colour displays of the same type, used for navigation and targeting.

The weighty and bulky OPS-28N Tor electro-optical system is the primary clear-weather targeting sensor, integrating a three-channel sensor package into a common gyro-stabilised drum-shaped platform under the nose that can move 110° left/right, 13° up and 40° down. Developed by the Krasnogorsk Optical-Mechanical Plant, the system houses a package of three sensors behind a pair of optically flat windows, incorporating a thermal imager and TV camera in addition to a laser rangefinder. The thermal imager features two fixed fields of view (FoV) positions – with 3x and 8x zoom, respectively – while the TV channel is provided with a 20x zoom capability; the system also has an auto-tracker and uses image-enhancement software to facilitate target recognition.

Mi-28N pilots say that in daylight conditions, with rain and smoke obscuring the battlefield (direct visibility not exceeding 0.8nm [1.5km]), the OPS-28N’s thermal imager enables Ataka-V missile launches at distances not exceeding 1.6nm (3km). In turn, the system’s TV sensor is able to detect main battle tanks (MBTs) at up to 3.8nm (7km) distance in good visibility conditions in daylight while enabling missile launches at up to 2.7nm (5km).

Night flying at low and ultra-low altitude is facilitated by the UOMZ TOES-520 electro-optical payload.

The Ataka-VM ATGM, here on an eight-round launcher next to a B8V-20 20-round pack for 80mm rockets, is offered in three versions. The first is used for anti-armour purposes, the second has a thermobaric/high-explosive warhead and the third features a blast-fragmentation warhead, intended for use against buildings and personnel.
Alexander Mladenov

Initially, Mi-28N crews were issued with OVN-1 Skosok night-vision goggles (NVGs) – an obsolete pilot night-vision device – but following the fatal crash of the Mi-28N in Syria in April 2017, with the aircrew flying on NVGs, the troublesome Skosok was rapidly superseded by the GEOONV-1-01 NVGs, a much better piece of kit using third-generation optoelectronic convertors.

The development programme for the GRPZ NO25 mast-mounted radar, working in the Ka-band (7.5 to 10mm wavelength), proved to be a very protracted undertaking. Installed on an early production Mi-28N for development testing, it was flight-tested for the first time in February 2007 and its export derivative completed the test and evaluation phase in 2015. The radar, currently integrated on the Mi-28NE and Mi-28UB versions, is claimed to be capable of searching a 90° sector in front of the helicopter to provide an image of the underlying terrain that could be useful for rapid cueing of the OPS-28N’s sensors towards a selected target; in the air-to-air mode it covers a 180° sector. Manufacturer GRPZ claims that maximum detection range against MBTs is in the region of 11nm (20km).There is also a moving target indicator (MTI) mode, while aerial targets can be detected at up to 10.8nm (20km).

The Mi-28N’s fuel system has a capacity of 1,500 litres of kerosene accommodated in self-sealing bladder tanks, while up to four 557-litre external fuel tanks, as here, can be carried on the wing pylons for ferry flights.

Weapons Suite

The radio beam-riding KBM 9M120 Ataka-V anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) system is the only guided weapon in the Mi-28N’s arsenal. The supersonic missile, an improved derivative of the 1970s-vintage 9M114 Shturm-V used by the Mi-24, has a maximum range of 3.13nm (5.8km) and its tandem warhead boasts armour penetration capability of up to 850mm after defeating explosive armour. Up to 16 ATGMs can be carried on two underwing launchers, but usually eight are carried in two four-round launcher units.

The Mi-28N’s powerful Shipunov 2A42 30mm gun with a maximum rate of fire of 900rpm is provided with 500 rounds and its maximum effective aiming range is 13,200ft (4,000m). Originally developed to arm the BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle, it was modified for airborne use, installed in an NPPU-28 gun turret under the nose. The electrically driven turret features two-axis stabilisation and can rotate 110° degrees left and right, 13° up and 40° down.

Unguided ordnance can be carried on four pylons under the stub wings (each with a load capacity of 1,058lb [480kg]) and includes 80mm S-8 rockets fired from B8V-20 20-round pods (maximum load of 80 rockets) and S-13 122mm rockets fired from five-round B13 pods (maximum load of 20 rockets). In addition, forward-firing UPK-23-250 gun pods with 23mm twin-barrel guns and 250 rounds can be suspended on the inner pylons. Other weapons include the KMGU-2 bomblet/mine dispenser pods and Strelets launcher packs with two or four 9M39 Igla-V air-to-air missiles, suitable for anti-helicopter and anti-UAV operations.

The Mi-28UB derivative, launched in production in 2016, features dual controls and retains the original Mi-28N’s extensive ballistic protection for the crew, including thick, side-on armour plating and armoured side windows and windshield.
Alexander Mladenov

Dual-control improved Havocs

The Mi-28UB is an enhanced Mi-28N derivative featuring dual controls and a number of cockpit ergonomics improvements. It retains the baseline mission avionics suite of its predecessor and is fully combat-capable, intended to be used mainly for both conversion-to-type and operational training of new Mi-28N pilots. While the original Mi-28N has controls only in the rear cockpit, the Mi-28UB is also equipped with a full set in the forward (instructor’s) cockpit; in addition, both cockpits were made 140mm wider for improved aircrew comfort, especially when flying with NVGs, and feature improved crash-resistant seats. The forward cockpit, manned by the flight instructor, also has a new panel to simulate in-flight equipment and avionics failures. The Mi-28UB is also equipped with the NO25 mast-mounted millimetre-wavelength radar.

The use of the Mi-28UB for the majority of missions during the pilot conversion course is expected to facilitate much more ef ective training. Until the Mi-28UB’s introduction in 2018, only experienced Mi-24 aircrew were selected for conversion to the Havoc as the latter has more complex handling characteristics and is described by pilots as being very temperamental compared with its predecessor.

The initial Mi-28UB, converted from a Mi-28N, took to the air for the first time at Rostvertol on August 9, 2013 and a production order for 24 was placed by the defence ministry in August 2016. The first production-standard Mi-28UBs were delivered in November 2017. Each of the frontline Mi-28N squadrons is scheduled to receive three to four Mi-28UBs, while the instructor-research squadron at Torzhok has four examples.