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Russian Combat Helicopters Begin Arriving in Iraq

 - November 17, 2013, 10:20 AM
Iraq is beginning to receive attach helicopters from Russia as part of a much larger arms package agreed last year. The deal covers Mi-28NE Night Hunters (above), and might also include Kamov Ka-52s.

Last week Iraq took delivery of the first batch of Mil helicopters from the Rostvertol factory. Four Mi-35Ms were delivered to Iraq, their arrival being announced by Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki. Iraqi managers, crews and technicians have been training at the Russian army’s Torzhok center, with the first group completing its course in late September. Following the delivery of the initial batch will be at least two more Mi-35Ms, and a sizeable batch of Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunter attack helicopters.

The supply of Mil helicopters is part of the $4.3 billion arms deal signed with Moscow in 2012, which covers a range of defense and security-related programs. Among them is the supply of 42 Pantsir-S1 short-range air defense systems. Procurement of the Kamov Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopter is also believed to be part of the deal.

Turning to Moscow for arms underlines Iraq’s determination to remain independent in terms of its major government acquisitions. Reportedly the deal nearly fell through earlier this year over corruption issues, but Iraq received adequate assurances and contracts have been signed. The supply of main battle tanks and fighters is also under discussion, with the MiG-35 being touted by some as a possibility for the Iraqi air force.

Reports surrounding the helicopter deals have been conflicting, but it seems likely that the Mi-35M order comprises at least six aircraft that were signed for on April 16 this year. The contract includes training and armament. Officially, Iraq is receiving “around 40” Mil helicopters from the Rostvertol factory, which is consistent with the oft-mentioned numbers of 30 or 36 Mi-28NEs to add to the Mi-35M buy.

Meanwhile, Iraq is also involved in discussions with the U.S. government concerning the possible supply of Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. A report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR) contained reference to a case for Iraq to acquire 24 new-build Apaches, with six U.S. Army aircraft to be leased to Iraq in the interim, possibly as early as next January. However, this is apparently not happening any time soon, although official request has been made to Congress. Asked whether this possible deal was going ahead, Paul Oliver, the regional vice president for international business development for Boeing Defense, Space and Security Middle East and Africa, replied: “Not right now, that’s the easiest way to say it. There [are] conversations going on. That is definitely a dialogue between Iraq and the U.S. government.”

Large numbers of attack helicopters are seen as necessary to help secure Iraq’s borders. Their acquisition follows an earlier spending spree to equip Iraqi army aviation with capable scout helicopters in the form of the Eurocopter EC635 and Bell IA-407, plus new-build and well-equipped Mi-8/171 assault helicopters.

While deliveries of Mil helicopters are being made to Iraq, Russia is also seeking to secure an attack helicopter deal with Algeria. Last month the Mi-28NE was officially presented to the Algerian government, which is also reported to be interested in the Ka-52.