TechUkrainian missiles challenge Russia's elite helicopters and S-400 in Crimea

Ukrainian missiles challenge Russia's elite helicopters and S‑400 in Crimea

Huge explosion at the Dżakoj airport in Crimea.
Huge explosion at the Dżakoj airport in Crimea.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | OSINTtechnical
6:09 PM EDT, April 17, 2024
The Ukrainians conducted a missile strike on the Russian airport in Dzhankoy, Crimea, which was guarded by the S-400 system and was believed to accommodate numerous helicopters, including those from the Mi-28, Ka-52 Alligator, and Mi-8 series. This article delves into the potential losses inflicted by this attack.
On the night of April 16th, Ukrainian forces targeted the Dzhankoy airport, an operational hub for the 39th helicopter regiment within the 27th mixed aviation division of the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Forces Command. Video footage from the scene revealed large fires at locations where helicopters and the S-400 Triumph battery system were based.

What the Russians had stationed at the Dzhankoy base

Prior satellite imagery showed the presence of Russia's state-of-the-art Ka-52 Alligator helicopters, assault Mi-28N units, and transport helicopters from the Mi-8 family at the airport. Given the challenges in sourcing modern components for these helicopters, Russia might struggle to replenish its losses swiftly.

The Ka-52 Alligator helicopters were among the most treasured assets at the base. They are an advanced version of the 1990s Ka-50 model. Unlike traditional setups, these helicopters feature a novel counter-rotating rotor system by the Kamov Design Bureau, eliminating the need for a tail rotor. Furthermore, unlike the tandem seating arrangement in helicopters such as the AH-1Z Viper, Russian models adopt a side-by-side seating configuration.

Initially, the Russians heavily utilized these $16 million helicopters, leading to substantial losses. Later, they served in critical roles as tank destroyers and reconnaissance units for Mi-28N helicopters.

The Ka-52s boast an advanced target detection and self-defense system, including an optoelectronic head with thermal imaging and the onboard radar Sword-U. The self-defense system, L-370P2 Vitebsk, can counteract enemy radars and deflect incoming missiles with a laser. However, in practice, the effectiveness of these systems appeared questionable, either due to underdevelopment or pilots' unfamiliarity with their operation.

Equipped with the 2A42 automatic cannon and six weapon pylons, the Ka-52 can carry an array of weaponry; four towers are dedicated to laser-guided AT-12 Spiral anti-tank missiles or unguided S-8 rocket pods, while the two outer towers accommodate 9K38 Igla air-to-air missiles.

Another type of helicopter at the base was the Mi-28N, officially deployed in 2009. Drawing inspiration from the AH-64 Apache, the Mi-28N offers a classic helicopter design with heavier armor (resistant to up to 23 mm cannon fire) but less firepower and, unlike the Ka-52 Alligator, lacking radar capabilities.

The Russian S-400 Triumph, or SA-21 Growler as it's known in NATO terminology, was also targeted in the attack. This system, operational since 2007, marks an advancement from the S-300P units. Theoretically, it can engage targets up to 248 miles away with 40N6E missiles, but this range is reduced significantly when countering ballistic missiles, with an effective defense of up to 37 miles.

The 40N6E missiles have an active radar homing head, allowing them to operate independently of the fire control radar post-launch. This "fire-and-forget" capability enhances the system's ability to tackle multiple incoming threats from different directions. Despite this, Russia's inventory of these advanced missiles is limited, and their effectiveness against contemporary Western technologies has been questioned, especially after engagements with high-profile weapons like the Storm Shadow cruise missile and MGM-140 ATACMS ballistic missile.

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