TechMi-28N Night Hunter attack helicopter. Marking 41 years of Russia's answer to the Apache

Mi‑28N Night Hunter attack helicopter. Marking 41 years of Russia's answer to the Apache

Mi-28N Helicopters
Mi-28N Helicopters
Images source: © Rostec Corporation

5:21 PM EST, November 15, 2023

The Mi-28 is the first attack helicopter that Russia designed from scratch. It has the unique distinction of being the only helicopter officially inducted into service twice. When compared to its rival model, the Ka-52, it has three times less losses during conflicts in Ukraine. But what more do we know about this aircraft, also known as the Night Hunter by the Russians?

Currently, Russia remains the sole nation that simultaneously uses three entirely distinct attack helicopters: the Mi-24/Mi-35, Ka-52, and Mi-28N. But what is the reason for this variety?

Although the Mi-24 is often seen as an attack machine, and frequently functions as such, its original design as a heavy battle helicopter lets it carry out both combat and transport missions, providing room for a mechanic and up to eight infantrymen.

The large cargo area of the Mi-24 gives the aircraft a round fuselage, making it an easier target and more vulnerable to side gusts of wind. Its larger size also makes the Mi-24 easier to detect and less agile.

As a result, in the 1970s, the USSR decided to develop a purpose-built attack helicopter capable of neutralizing the newly introduced Western tanks, including the early versions of the Leopard 2, Abrams, and Challenger tanks. The design offices of Mil and Kamov were the frontline contenders for this task.

The Rivalry between Mi-28 and Ka-50

Initially, Mil planned to create a helicopter to fly at a relatively high altitude, with speed being its main advantage. Therefore, they formulated a preliminary design that featured a transverse layout with two relatively small rotors attached to the ends of large wings and a pushing propeller on the rear end of the fuselage, similar to the contemporary American Raider X design.

Early model of Mi-28
Early model of Mi-28© Public domain

However, this initial blueprint was later abandoned in favor of a more conservative but safer concept: a slower and heavily armored machine flying closer to the ground, reducing its detectability.

The final design of the helicopter had a Sikorsky arrangement, featuring a main rotor and a small tail rotor. The tail rotor used a unique design consisting of two independent, contra-rotating, two-blade rotors.

The first flying prototype of Mi-28
The first flying prototype of Mi-28© Public domain

The first prototype of Mi-28 (NATO code: Havoc) completed its inaugural flight in November 1982, and by 1984, the helicopter passed all tests and trials. But, just as the production process was set to commence, it was discovered that the tender for a new Soviet army attack helicopter was won by Kamov, with its Z-80 project, which later became known as the Ka-50.

Eventually, a compromise was reached - Kamov was assigned to develop an attack helicopter for the Soviet armed forces, while Mil was to continue the development of the Mi-28 for potential exports.

Turn of Tides for Mi-28N - Night Hunter

A few years later, in the early 1990s, fortunes turned in favor of Mil. As work on the targeted variant of the Ka-50 was delayed, Mil got a second chance to create a distinctive variant of the helicopter adapted for operations in the dark and bad weather. Consequently, the Mi-28N, also referred to as the Night Hunter, took flight.

Mi-28 Helicopter
Mi-28 Helicopter© Lic. CC BY-SA 3.0, Oleg V. Belyakov, Wikimedia Commons

After years of development, the Mi-28N was inducted into service by a decree from President Putin in 2009. The induction turned out to be premature as various refinements to the equipment were still required. As a result, the Mi-28 was officially inducted into service for a second time by a decision from the Ministry of Defense in 2013.

Currently, the Russian armed forces employ both the Ka-52 (a dual-seat variant of the Ka-50) and the Mi-28N helicopters. To supplement the insufficiency of specialized attack helicopters, they also use the older Mi-24 and its modern version, Mi-35.

Mi-28N Helicopter
Mi-28N Helicopter© Artem Katranzhi, Lic. CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Focusing on Mi-28N Design

The Mi-28N bears some resemblance to Apache helicopters with its slender fuselage and a tandem seat cockpit. A notable feature of the Russian machine is its miniature transport cabin.

The cabin of this helicopter can accommodate up to three people, acting as an emergency solution for fast evacuation such as rescuing crew from other downed helicopters.

The Mi-28N has substantial defense against enemy fire – its armor can shield against projectiles up to 23 mm in caliber (armor-piercing up to 12.7 mm), and the seats are designed to move vertically up to around 12 inches upon crashing, which helps to absorb impact forces on the crew's bodies - a system that ensures pilot safety upon impact at velocities as high as 40 ft/s.

The helicopter's rotor is also protected against damage and can resist being shot through by projectiles of up to 23 mm in caliber.

Armored doors to the Mi-28 cabin
Armored doors to the Mi-28 cabin© Modeling News

The Armaments of Mi-28N Helicopter

The Mi-28N is generally equipped with a 30 mm single-barrel 2A42-2 cannon with a 250-round ammunition reserve stored in two boxes on either side of the cannon. The cannon is capable of tilting 110 degrees horizontally and -40 degrees vertically.

The Mi-28N has four hardpoints under its wings that can carry up to 5070 lbs of weapons. These may include bombs of varying weight (up to 1102 lbs), gun pods, unguided rockets of 80, 122, or 300 mm caliber, as well as Strelets-W modules, each bearing two Igla-S surface-to-air missiles.

The primary weapon of the Mi-28 remains the Ataka anti-tank system, equipped with 9M120 rockets, which can reach a range of 3.72 miles and penetrate about 27.56 inches of RHA.

Despite its strengths, a key weakness of the Mi-28s currently operated by Russia is the lack of radar. While some variants come with integrated radar, these presently serve only for training purposes, barring a few export versions.

Export version of Mi-28 - Mi-28NE helicopter
Export version of Mi-28 - Mi-28NE helicopter© Lic. CC BY-SA 3.0, Oleg V. Belyakov, Wikimedia Commons

A notable advantage of the Mi-28, especially when compared with the Ka-52, is its dual optoelectronic heads. The targeting OPS-28 from Zenit, houses devices for daytime and nocturnal surveillance, along with a thermal imaging unit. Additionally, the helicopter's pilot is also equipped with a TOES-521 head.

Mi-28N on the Ukrainian Battlefield

It's interesting to note that due to the experiences in the war in Ukraine, the Russians have started to deploy both Ka-52 and Mi-28N helicopters in joint missions so that they may complement each other's capabilities.

Mi-28N© Public domain

The more heavily armored and highly damage-resistant Mi-28N, equipped with a mobile cannon, usually leads the flight, identifying targets and relaying their positions to the following Ka-52.

The Ka-52, which is more vulnerable to enemy fire, trails slightly behind the Mi-28. Using the information from the Mi-28, the Ka-52 can engage its 9K121 Vikhr-M missiles, which have an impressive range of 6.21 miles. Due to its six hardpoints (unlike the Mi-28, which has four), the Ka-52 frequently carries air-to-air missiles, providing cover for the leading Mi-28.

Ka-52 and Mi-28N helicopters
Ka-52 and Mi-28N helicopters© SNAFU

Mi-28NM – The Evolution of the Mi-28N

The combat variant currently in service with Russian armed forces is the Mi-28N. They also use Mi-28UB, a combat training version (typically used exclusively for training). These machines can be easily identified among other Russian Mi-28s due to their spherical radar cover placed over the main rotor.

The flaws in the Mi-28N are addressed in its evolutionary model, the Mi-28NM. This is a heavily modernized helicopter with radar, new engines, an advanced fire-control system, and 9M123 Khrizantema anti-tank missiles. This variant has also been updated to use the new Russian LMUR-guided anti-tank missiles.

The Russian LMUR is currently the heaviest missile of its type, weighing over 220 lbs, with a speed of 755 ft/s and a range exceeding 8.69 miles.

The first Mi-28NM units, two of which were delivered in 2019, have already been tested in combat. In Fall 2022, reports started to emerge that these machines were present in conflict zones, and by Spring 2023, it was confirmed (there had been rumors without evidence earlier) that the Russians had indeed employed LMUR missiles.

Mi-28NM - upgraded variant of the helicopter during the MAKS 2021 show.
Mi-28NM - upgraded variant of the helicopter during the MAKS 2021 show.© Air Recognition
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