An Ukrainian Army Guard Mil Mi-8 Hip tactical transport helicopter was shot down on Thursday morning 29 May 2014 by what Ukrainian officials say was a Russian-made shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile launched by pro-Russian separatists just outside the town of Slovyansk. Twelve service men perished as result, including the commanding officer of the Guard combat training, General Major Serhiy Kulchytsky.
According to a Army Guard statement the Mi-8 was delivering food to one of the Ukrainian army road blocks outside the town, where fighting between Ukrainian government forces and militants wanting East Ukraine becoming part of Russia have been going on for some time now. Of the twelve service men killed, six were part of the Army National Guard, the others from the Berkut special task force. One guard member on board is said to have been seriously injured, meaning the helicopter was likely shot down at low altitude.
The loss of the Mi-8 is the fifth helicopter the Ukraine armed forces loss during combat with pro-Russian extremists, the third by a MANPADS and the second Mi-8. Another Mi-8 was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade on the ground at Kramatorsk Airbase on 25 April this year. Two Mi-24 Hinds were downed by shoulder-launched SAMs near Slovyansk on 2 May, another by heavy-machine gun fire on 5 May.
LATEST UPDATE 5 MAY 2014 (3RD HIND DOWNED, PILOT RELEASED) | A third Ukrainian Army Mil Mi-24 Hind was shot down on 5 May 2014, about 14:30 local time, near Slovyansk, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence confirmed. It’s the third aircraft loss to hostile fire in three days and the third in the third such event in the history of the country.
Fortunately both Hind crew members made it out alive, because the machine either crashed or ditched in a river after it was hit by heavy machine gun fire from what appeared to be pro-Russian separatists in the area. The pilot and gunner were med-evacuated back to camp by Ukrainian soldiers coming to their rescue.
Also some positive news from Eastern Ukraine on Monday 5 May: Captain Yevhena Krasnokuts – the pilot of one of the two Hinds downed earlier this month – was released from captivity. Doctors at the Ukraine Military Medical Clinical Centre of the Northern region are satisfied with his condition, although the captain did sustain some wounds because of his crash. At the same military hospital the bodies of the three crew members that died during the shoot-down on 2 May of two other Hinds.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence shoulder-launched portable surface-to-air missiles – MANPADS in short – shot down two of its Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters near the town of Slovyansk that day. The two downed Hinds mark the first losses ever of an Ukrainian Air Force aircraft in mid-air by hostile fire since the country gained independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The statement released by Kiev (Kyiv) confirmed earlier reports from eye-witnesses and Russian sources that pro-Russian separatists downed an Ukrainian Army helicopter. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence both crew members on one of the Hinds were killed. Of the second Hind one of the Ukrainian Army pilots had apparently been taken prisoner by alleged separatists, the faith of the second crew member unknown – although it is possible that there was only one crew member on board one of the Hinds.
The use of MANPADS – be aware that it has not been independently confirmed – clearly shows the anti-government paramilitary groups that now hold key positions in and around a dozen of Eastern Ukrainian towns are well armed and trained in the use of more sophisticated weapons than the “everyday” Kalashnikov. Moreover, a normal machine gun would make the downing of an armoured Mi-24 very very difficult.
The Mi-24s were not the only choppers hit after the Ukrainian military started its renewed offensive against pro-Russian separatists positions in the early hours of 2 May. An Ukrainian Army Mi-8 “Hip” armed assault and transport helicopter got hit several times by small arms fire, wounding – according to Kiev – one soldier on board (see photos below).
Several eye-witnesses and journalists nearby say the Ukrainian Army helicopters fired upon road-blocks put up by the separatists just outside of the city of Slovyansk. All helicopters are believed to be operating from forward positions in the fields near Slovyansk and from Kramatorsk Airbase – which was a reserve field until recently. On 25 April one of the Mi-8s deployed to Kramatorsk exploded on the ground with several wounded as a result. According to a spokesperson of the Ukrainian Armed Forces the fuel tank had been hit by a large calibre sniper bullet. Others say it was hit by grenade fire.
The Ukrainian Army has deployed a new version of the Mil Mi-8 Hip helicopter. On decree of the Ukrainian Minister of Defence, Col. Gen. Mykhaylo Koval, the armed forces have commissioned the first air landing and transport helicopter dubbed Mi-8MSB-V on 24 April 2014.
The chopper is an indigenous upgraded version of the Mi-8T already in Ukrainian service. The most significant upgrade are new, more modern engines to improve the Hip’s performance. Moreover a flight information recording system, emergency beacon and climate control unit have been installed.
The Mi-8MSB-V (Мі-8МСБ-В in Ukrainian, Ми-8МСБ-В in Russian) is to perform air transport, paradrop missions, training, search and rescue and aerial surveillance. All Hips serve with the Ukrainian Army Aviation, with an estimated 30 operational. One Mi-8 exploded on Kramatorsk Airbase on 25 April (see more in our Overview: the Air Forces of Ukraine), but it is not known which type of Hip it was.
Source: Ukrainian Ministry of Defence with additional reporting by AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger
The armed forces of Ukraine are set to domestically upgrade their Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters, now that country of origin Russia is no longer the biggest friend. Sources within the Defence Industry have provided some details of the upgrading program. Funds will come partly from donations of tens of millions of dollar made by Ukrainian companies and individuals after the country came to a stand-off with Russia when Moscow took control over the Crimea peninsula in March 2014.
The Ukrainian Army officially flies about 46 Mil Mi-24P/V/PM Hind attack helicopters, but the estimated number of aircraft that are actually airworthy is estimated at no more than 20. Three of them serve in Africa painted all white: two support the UN troops in the DR Congo since several months, a third deployed to Liberia on 26 March 2014 to aid the UN forces in that country. That leaves about 17 fully active Hinds at home. We at AIRheads↑Fly believe that now first some of the other 16 of the 46 Hinds will be upgraded to what is unofficially known as the Mi-24PU1 standard – with the U standing for Ukraine of course – to strengthen the front-line forces.
To increase the Hind’s capabilities Ukraine locally produced, more powerful engines will be built in. A new satcom is added and as well as a defensive suite we believe. Moreover the laser target finder and guiding system will be upgraded to accommodate the use of precision guided weapons – even in adversary weather conditions and at night.
The new Ukrainian Army Hinds will be able to fire anti-aircraft missiles and can carry up to eight guided anti-tank missiles that are said to be able to hit armour 5 miles away. The Mi-24PU1s primary weapon system will be the gun, believed to be a double-barreled 23 millimetre GSh-23 able to fire 3000 to 3400 rounds per minute. Although an Ukrainian source says an improved 2x 30-millimitre version will be installed able to sent 4000 rounds a minute to a target.
Simultaneously with the Ukrainian Army upgrading its Mi-24s, the Ukrainian Air Force is trying to get as many of its long-stored MiG-29s back into action. With Ukraine trying to find a new and complicated independence from its powerful neighbour Russia, indigenous modernisation programs like of the Hind might be the corner stone of not only creating a more military independence, but also of creating new business opportunities for its own industry.
LATEST UPDATE 16 MARCH 07:45 UTC | Russian and Ukrainian forces were at a military stand-off Saterday 15 March 2014 in the Kherson region, just north of the disputed Crimean peninsula. Both sides admitted being involved in the deployment of air and ground assets in the area, although Russia kept it much vaguer than Ukraine.
Apparently about 60 to 80 Russian troops tried to take control of the strategically located village of Strilkove, just north of the Crimean peninsula on a 2 km (1.2 mile) thin long piece of coastal land leading to mainland Ukraine. The Russians deployed at least 3 armoured vehicles and 2 to 4 armed helicopters. Some sources say they were of the Mi-24 or Mi-28 attack type, but that is unconfirmed.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence its country scrambled troops to the region the size of an Air Mobile Battalion. Reinforcements might have flown in from units deployed to the military airfield in the town of Kherson, just northwest of the confrontation location. Some sources say they had air support from helicopters, which is likely to have come in the first place from armed Ukrainian Army Mi-8s or Mi-24s.
From Russia comes the official quote for incursions like today. “Russia considers the request of peaceful citizens in Ukraine to be protected.” Ukrainian border guard said the Russian forces told them they were after taking control of a natural gas installation.
Russian control of the Strilkove coastline clears the road to push quicker northeast to Ukraine’s main military air transport base at Melitopol, where the Ukrainian Air Force Ilyushin IL-76s are based, if/when the conflict escalates any further. The distance over land is a 130 km (80 miles), which could in normal circumstances be negotiated in about 2 hours.
The same travel speed could be applied to the main M18/E105 road from the Crimea peninsula to Melitopol, located just 12 km (7.5 miles) west of Strilkove. The village of Novooleksiivka and the town Henichesk plus a former airbase in ruins since a long time ago are strategically situated. In case of any real Russian offensive the Ukrainian military will probably make a stand in that triangle to block advancing Russian forces from both the main route as well as the Strilkove coastline.
Fortunately on Saturday 15 March the stand-off didn’t become bigger. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence Russian forces even withdrew to their former positions inside the Crimean peninsula after the Ukrainian ground forces and air support showed up, but this was later recalled by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry which stated that Strilkove had been taken by Russian forces.