Dubai Air Show

Russia pushes to sell more military helicopters

 - November 16, 2013, 7:30 AM
Russia aims to expand its product line and to boost global sales of its military helicopters, such as the Mi-26 (top) and the Mi-17.

Military cooperation between Russia and Middle East will certainly be boosted with the recent appointment of Alexander Mikheyev, formerly deputy general manager at arms vendor Rosoboronexport, as the general manager at the Russian Helicopters holding company (Chalet C9). The decision was made on September 24, and is understood to be a move aimed at boosting sales of Russian military helicopters in the global market.

Established in 2007, the Russian Helicopters company unites two design houses–Mil and Kamov; five mass production plants (in Rostov-upon-Don, Kazan, Ulan-Ude, Kumertau and Arsentiev); and a number of first- and second-tier suppliers. Last year its income rose by 21 percent, up to Rouble 125.7 billion, with 290 rotorcraft deliveries to customers worldwide.

The Russian Helicopters has a plan to increase annual production of rotorcraft up to 470 machines in 2020, with a subsequent rise in revenues up to Rouble 240 billion.

“Our company is already one of the world leaders on the global market for rotorcraft,” said Mikheyev. “We will further expand our product line in the segment of light helicopters and also enlarge our service network and its share in the income from aftersales support.”

Commenting on the new appointment, Sergei Chemezov, head of Rostec–Russian Technologies state corporation (which controls 663 enterprises, including those in the defense and rotorcraft industries), and formerly head of Rosoboronexport, under whose command Mikheyev served for a dozen of years–said that under the new leader Russian Helicopters “has the task of strengthening their positions in the international markets and improving production efficiency.” He added that this task calls for an increase in the Russian Helicopters’ market share from 14 percent today up to 18 to 20 percent in 2020, “through expansion of our presence in the Commonwealth of Independent States, China, the Middle East, India, Africa and Latin America.”

Mentioning the Middle East after the two largest countries of the world and the biggest importers of the Russian military hardware is symbolic. Last year Iraq signed a framework multibillion-dollar agreement with Russia for the purchase of some advanced weaponry–the first one since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. It calls for deliveries of Pantsyr surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and Mil Mi-28ME attack helicopters. Saddam’s Iraq was the intended launch customer for the initial Mi-28 back in the 1980s, when the type was being developed and not yet even selected by Russia’s own local military forces.

Iran is another keen importer of Russian rotorcraft in the region. It has been operating dozens of Mi-17 series helicopters in both governmental and private structures, and even tried to establish a full-cycle MRO facility able to perform major overhaul on the Mi-17. In addition, Iran has long been negotiating license production of a customized version of the Kamov Ka-32. The list of Russian-made weapons in that country is long, from Kalashnikov assault rifles (produced locally under license) up to MiG-29 jet fighters, Il-76 airlifters and S-200 long-range surface-to-air systems.

Syria has also been a major importer of Russian weapons, but the stock of its governmental armed forces has been much depleted by the ongoing civil war. Before the uprising started and later, the following systems have been mentioned as going into this country: “Elements” of the S-300 long-range SAM, Pechora-2A and Pantsyr medium-range SAMs and Bastion land-based anti-ship missile complex.

MiG-29M/M2 fighters, some of which have been assembled for the Syrian air force, remain in Russia, but their destiny is unclear now. The governmental forces have been actively employing Mi-8/17 and Mi-24/35 helicopters against the rebels, and some of them have fallen victim to ground fire. Russia was contracted to overhaul and upgrade the Mil fleet, but the process of shipping reworked rotorcraft back to Syria came under fire from critics based in democratic countries and seems to have been halted.

Pressure from critics has been also been applied to the Mi-17 series helicopters going to another country in the region, Afghanistan. Another traditional user of Russian weaponry, this poor and unsettled country has continued to suffer from the activities of global terrorist movements, and is receiving financial and material support from the U.S. and other NATO countries.

Despite having strong aerospace industries and aggressive manufacturers, the U.S. sometimes prefers using more robust and dust-resistant rotorcraft of Russian origin when it comes to support of battling soldiers on Afghan soil. The Pentagon has placed repeated orders for Mi-17 series helicopters for use in Afghanistan (including by the Afghan government forces). Some of newly supplied rotorcraft go to their destinations via the United Arab Emirates, where mediator companies and support centers have been established.