The Russian Army has turned up the volume to put some pressure on the Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since this week a new attack / assault helicopter brigade is buzzing NATO’s eastern flank from Ostrov Airbase, about 20 miles (32 km) east of the border with Latvia.
The formerly run-down, reserve base has been gearing up ever since December 2013, when the 15th Army Aviation Brigade was officially formed at Ostrov. Since this week three helicopter squadrons operating tens of attack and assault/transport helicopters apparently make daily training flights, according to several reports we received.
One squadron operates the Mil Mi-28N Night Hunter, a second the Kamov Ka-52 Alligator. Both are splendid attack helicopters that you don’t want to face if your on the other side of the battlefield.
The third squadron operates the Mil Mi-26T heavy-lift choppers as well as Mil Mi-8MTV-5s, bringing a great supply line to any forward operating units. The Russian Western Military District earlier said it will bring Ostrov’s 15th AAB up to a total of five squadrons – not disclosing yet what the additional two units will fly for type of aircraft.
The proximity of Ostrov to the rest of Europe brings the capitals of the Baltic states plus Finland – and there military facilities, within striking distance of large and in theory formidable attack helicopter force. Centrally and strategically located Riga – the capital of Latvia – can be reached in about an hour. No wonder the Baltic states have become a bit more nervous lately about the Russian pressure on their doorstep.
NATO’s secretary general pleaded as late as last week again for alliance’s member states to put more dough into their military, while non-NATO members Sweden and Finland are getting closer to tighter military cooperation between the two of them.
Internationally overshadowed by the Russian military actions on the Crimean peninsula (Krim), the Russian Western and Central Districts ran very large scale readiness exercises from 26 February till 3 March 2014. We at AIRheads↑Fly gathered some of the highlights of the air ops.
According to official statements 90 aircraft, over 120 helicopters, 880 tanks, 1,200 armoured and soft vehicles plus artillery, up to 80 ships and 150,000 troops were involved.
Western District Helicopters
The readiness exercises pre-started on 23 or 24 February in sunny conditions, with 10 to 20 Mil Mi-24 Hinds and Mi-8 Hips of the Western Military District started working on group attack strategies in mountainous areas. Furthermore the Hips flew transport and recon missions in pairs during day and night, flying from unprepared landing zones.
Central District Helicopters
Meanwhile 10 to 20 Central Military District Mi-8s also started in their operational area on 23, 24 or 25 February by fortifying a 5,000 square metres (15,000 square feet) zone with 200 anti-tank mines. According to a Russian Defence Ministry news release that took no more than 10 minuts with the choppers flying at 45 to 60 feet above the ground at a speed of 11 knots (20 kmh). Similar mining tactics were earlier used by Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the war/occupation that lasted from December 1979 to February 1989.
Baltic Fleet Helicopters
At least a dozen Baltic Fleet Mi-24 and armed Mil Mi-8 helicopter from the 125th Independent Helicopter Squadron at Chkalovsk supported ground troops during the readiness exercise in the Kalingrad enclave at the Baltic sea.
Ground crews started the fueling of fighter jets – including Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers – and IL-78 tanker aircraft on 26 February. An unknown number of combat aircraft were dispersed to many airfields in the Western Military District. Some pilots flew into Arctic airfields on flights of over 1,500 km (930 miles). During those missions, lasting up to 2.5 hours, they flew in so-called combat formations executing radar evasion and simulated electronic enemy air defence suppression.
Lipetsk Air Base
These fighter packs included Sukhoi Su-27s from the 91st Training and Research Regiment (91 IIAP) flying from Lipetsk Air Base, which is sort of the Nellis AFB for the Russian Air Force. The unit is said to have 15 Flankers, plus more than twenty MiG-29s.
Combat aircraft Western District
A total of 30 to 60 bombers and fighters of the Western Military District are reported to have been participating in the Readiness Exercise 2014. Taken from north to south the combat aircraft came from bases in regions that included Murmansk Oblast (bordered to Norway and Finland), Karelia (bordered to Finland), Tver (far east from the Baltic republics and Belarus), Kursk (east of Ukraine) and Voronezh (bordered to Ukraine).
The Western Military District pilots flew a total of 700 hours during the span of the Readiness Exercise 2014. MiG-31s and MiG-31BMs supported the bombers. Sukhoi Su-27P and MiG-29SMT flew interception and close air combat missions.
Sukhoi Su-34s (Fullback) and Su-24Ms (Fencer-D) were tasked with operational relocation to other airports and the bombing of ground targets alone, in pairs or connected via a datalink connection. Sukhoi Su-24MRs (Fencer-E) provided tactical reconnaissance and bombing assessment overflights.
At least one four-engined turboprop Antonov AN-12 (NATO-reporting name Cub) with registration RA-11344 was tasked with transport duties. The Tupolev Tu-134 of the air commander of the Western Military District was used on 28 February for a simulated intercept and forced landing by Sukhoi Su-27s on route from Moscow to Besovets in Karelia region.
Tankers and interceptors
Five IL-78 (NATO-reporting name Midas) air tankers took of from Olenegorks Airbase in the Murmansk region on 28 February, to designated predestined zones over the Barents Sea to refuel six Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-31s in mid-air at 4,000 metres (12,000 feet). The Foxhounds – as their NATO-reporting name goes – took off earlier from Monchegorsk Airbase. The MiG-31s trained on intercepting naval aircraft from the Northern Fleet base of Severomorsk.
The Russian bear is clearly awoken over the Ukrainian and Crimea (Krim) situation. While it is unclear what the Ukrainian air forces are capable of and what their exact readiness situation is (see our article here), it is perhaps even more unclear what exactly the Russian bear is hiding in its den. One thing is sure: Russian military aviation is a formidable force that dwarfs Ukrainian capabilities.
According to Monday’s reports, Russian Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers were intercepted Sunday night by Ukrainian Flankers, without shots being fired. The Flanker is now probably the most numerous fighter aircraft in the theatre, with Russian numbers far exceeding those of Ukraine. The Russian Air Force has dozens and dozens of these formidable aircraft at its disposal, although many are slightly outdated by today’s standards.
As recent as December 2013, it was reported that a Russian Air Force fighter unit flying Flankers was moving to Baranavichy airbase in Belarus, a short 150 km (80 nm) flight from the Ukrainian northern – and Polish/NATOs eastern – border.
Next to Flankers, the Russian Air Force is equipped with large numbers of MiG-29 Fulcrum-C and MiG-29SMT aircraft. The Russian Navy also flies MiG-29K Fulcrums and Su-33 Flankers, albeit in smaller numbers. These naval aircraft are meant to fly from the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, but can easily be deployed from land bases like Belbek Airbase, that Russian ground forces took at the beginning of March during the first days of the Crimean conflict.
Su-35 ‘Super Flanker’
The newest Flanker version is the thrust vectoring and highly capable Su-35S Flanker-E, of which Vladimir Putins’ Russia ordered 48 in 2009. Deliveries run until next year. All of these ‘Super Flankers’ are based at Dzemgi airbase in the Khabarovsk region near China. But with the large ‘planned’ exercise – involving 150,000 troops, 90 aircraft, over 120 helicopters, 880 tanks and up to 80 ships – happening close to Ukraine, the Russian could be tempted to deploy some of the top dog Flankers closer to any possible action. The exercise ended on 4 March, with Putin ordering troops back to their barracks, according to Russian press agency Interfax.
A Flanker-derivative is the Su-34 Fullback, a medium range bomber designed to replace the obsolete Su-24 Fencer. Of these heavily weaponised Fullbacks, 32 were delivered by December 2013. According to Sukhoi sources the production facilities already started constructing another load of 92 aircraft. The Su-34 can carry up to eight tons of weaponry and deliver the payload to a target up to 680 miles (1,100 km) after lift-off without aerial refueling.
An older, but very capable ground attack aircraft is the Su-25 Frogfoot, used quite extensively in the 1994 Chechnya war and the 2008 South Ossetian war. Say the Russian equivalent of the US tank killing A-10 Warthog.
Russia’s long range bombers are the Tu-22M Backfire, Tu-160 Blackjack and the Tu-95MS Bear, with supposedly 16 of the former and 62 of the latter available. The Tu-160 Blackjacks are able to utilize the Raduga Kh-101 cruise missile, capable of delivering a payload of up to 880 pounds (400 kg) at a distance of 6,000 miles (9,600 km) after being launched from the belly of the Blackjack. So they never even have to come close to the best of Ukrainian air defence: the S-300 SAM systems with a max range of 200 km. All of Putins bombers have been flying long-range training missions over the last couple of years.
In a league of their own are the 122 MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors that Russia is said to have. The type was introduced in 1981. Sixty Foxhounds will be upgraded to MiG-31BM standard, with final delivery expected in 2020. The Foxhound will then soldier on until at least until 2028, possibly 2038. Although probably not the first choice of the Russian Air Force brass when things get out of hand, sending in a few Foxhounds to sweep clean the Ukrainian airspace must not been ruled out.
Russia’s most menacing attack helicopters are the Kamov Ka-50 Black Shark (NATO-name Hokum), Ka-52 Alligator, Mi-28NE Night Hunter and the Mil Mi-35M Hind, a renewed version of the famous Mi-24 Hind. Forces in the Russian Western District are known to have been equipped with the types. Numbers of Hinds and Mi-8 or Mi-17 Hips were allegedly seen over the Crimea the last few days, heading for Russian controlled or soon to be controlled locations.
Transports Reporters, Ukrainian military, locals and even the Russian Ministry of Defence have together reported tens of Ilyushin IL-76 Candid strategic airlifters heading or landing at Anapa (Krasnodor), Kershones Airbase in Sevastopol and Gvardeyskaya Airbase near Simferopol. Although public satellite images show a lot of these aircraft have been sitting around for years, doing nothing, they are still the backbone of the Russian transport fleet. The tanker version of the IL-76 is the IL-78 Midas, while the AWACS version is the A-50 Mainstay, of which Russia is supposed to have 26 in service.
Sporting its coloured star as always, the red bear is rising again. No matter what the operational status of the entire Russian armed forces is, the Air Force has no shortage of military aircraft. If war is the outcome, the Ukrainian opposition will clearly be the underdog.
Thirteen Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunters (NATO-name Havoc) attack helicopters have been delivered to Iraq so far, Iraqi and Russian media reported this weekend. In 2012, a contract for 36 Mi-28NE Havocs and other military hardware was signed between Iraq and Russia, worth 4.2 billion USD
Iraq will use the attack helicopters for counter-terrorism operation. On Saturday 4 January, it was already reported that Iraq is attacking apparent terrorists in the west of the country, using Cessna/ATK AC-208B Combat Caravans. Last November, it was reported that Iraq started receiving the first four Mi-35M Hind-Es. Last autumn, the Iraqi pilots and technicians finalized their training in Russia.
Meanwhile, Iraqi pilots are also training in the US to fly the Lockheed Martin F-16 block 52 Fighting Falcon. The country is expecting delivery of the first of 36 F-16s it ordered in the US. The first 4.3 billion USD-contract for this order was signed in December 2011, and first deliveries are expected by September 2014. Procedures for forming the first squadron started roughly four months ago at Balad airbase in northern Baghdad.
Only last month, the Iraqi Air Force ordered 24 KAI T-50 supersonic advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft on 12 December 2013. Iraq will use the Korea Aerospace Industries machines mainly as lead-in trainer for their 36 new F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighters. The aircraft are designated T-50IQ
All in all, Iraq is building some serious airborne muscle.
The Iraqi Army Aviation received its first four Mi-35M Hind-Es on November 7th, 2013, with at least six more to follow as a part of the build-up a sizeable attack helicopter fleet that will include Havocs and possibly even Alligators.
Apart from the Mi-35s Iraq is getting 36 Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunters (NATO-name Havoc). Most of the aircraft are due to be delivered by the end of 2013. The status of the contract for at least 10 Kamov Ka-52 Alligators is uncertain. There are conflicting reports on the deal. Some say the Alligators have been cancelled, some say it will be a single-seat version of the side-by-side attack helicopter.
The Ka-52 is designed as an all-weather day-and-night attack helicopter for destroying enemy hard and soft ground targets, low-speed aerial targets and to eliminate enemy troops on a tactical level. It is good for surveillance missions and control of an attack combat helicopter team. Originally designed as the single-seat Ka-50 (NATO-name Hokum), the side-by-side two-seat version has given the type an unique advantage.
The Mi-28NE Night Hunter attack helicopter is designed to carry out search-and-destroy operations against tanks, armored vehicles and personnel; to destroy protected sites and defense installations; to fly search-and-destroy operations against boats and other small naval vessels; and to combat low-speed and low-altitude enemy aircraft. The Mi-28NE is fitted with an integrated avionics suite that allows NOE flight on auto-pilot at night and in adverse conditions.
The Mi-35 is the most multipurpose helicopter of the three, being a combat asset with a small cargo haul enough to house 6 fully-equipped combat troops or a payload of 2,400 kg in addition to the crew of 2. All three helicopters have a top speed of about 161 knots (300 kmh) and can operate up to an altitude of about 16,500 feet (5,5 km).
Source: Rosobornexport / Russian Helicopters with additional reporting by AIRheads’ Marcel Burger