The 12th edition of HeliRussia, held at the Crocus Center in Moscow on May 16-18, saw a considerable reduction in the number of exhibits and participants. This is partly explained by the poor performance of the annual show’s patron, Russian Helicopters, whose production rate dropped from a peak of 294 in 2012 to 214-220 in 2017-2018. However, on the eve of the show, Russia President Vladimir Putin promised a massive order for as many as a 100 Mi-28NM attack helicopters.
On a trip to Kazan on May 13, Putin visited an aviation plant and, among other things, inspected two promising rotorcraft: an improved Ansat and a Mi-38 in its Russian Air and Space Force (VKS) version. The defense ministry and other governmental agencies are considering both types for acquisition. It is rumored that these two had been planned to make their debut at HeliRussia’2019 but remained in Kazan instead for the presidential inspection.
Addressing the top brass and industry leaders on May 15, the president said, “The Army Aviation assets need an urgent upgrade with modern self-protection systems with improved performance and state-of-the-art extended-firing-range air-launched munitions. A hundred improved Mi-28NM combat helicopters will be delivered to the operational units by 2028.” He further stated that the Syrian campaign has highlighted a number of shortcomings in the technical condition of aircraft and helicopters, as well as air-launched munitions, including some points that are “impossible to find out during testing at firing ranges.” The industry is working on curing these technical problems.
These words directly apply to the Mi-28MN. This version of the baseline Mi-28 appeared as a result of the Syrian war experience, during which deficiencies of the early production helicopters were discovered. Earlier this spring, experimental examples of the Mi-28MN were spotted flying combat missions against rebels in support of the ongoing Syrian army offensive in Idlib.
While the future of the Mi-28MN is now decided, that is not yet the case for the improved Ansat and Mi-38. Reportedly, ministry of defense orders for them were discussed at one of the five separate meetings May 13-17 that Putin attended with military and industry leaders. A civilian version of the Mi-38 gained local type certification in December 2015 and an initial order for two semi-experimental examples for military use two years later. With a price tag of $17 million, compared to about $15 million for the current-production Mi-17, the larger Mi-38 promises similar flight hour costs while offering seven times higher transportation efficiency on an 800-km (432-nm) leg.