Following the start of construction of new helicopter-carrying landing ships earlier this summer, the Russian defense ministry has declared an intent to dust off all of its stored Kamov Ka-29s and press them back into service, in order to form an independent squadron with each of the navy’s fleets in the Pacific, Arctic, Baltic, and Black Sea theaters.
Based on the platform of the Ka-27 shipborne rotorcraft, the Ka-29 is an armor-protected attack helicopter dedicated to provide fire and logistic support to marines in beach assault operations. Outwardly, it differs from the Ka-27 in having a wider flight deck with a large flat windshield.
With a gross weight of 11.5 tonnes, the Ka-29 is armed with a built-in 9A622 four-barrel 7.62-mm machine gun and up to a tonne of air-launched munitions on the stub wings, including 80-mm S-8 rockets and 9M120 Ataka anti-tank guided missiles. Alternatively, the outer weapons stations can accommodate 1,100-pound (500-kg) free-fall bombs, or podded rapid-fire cannons.
The plant in Kumertau assembled about 60 Ka-29s from 1984 to 1991, sufficient to equip the three large Project 1174 “Ivan Rogov” assault ships. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, one of them was placed in reserve and the other two scrapped. With no other suitable ships in its possession, the Russian navy mothballed the Ka-29s.
The idea to bring them back into service first arose during the negotiations with France concerning the purchase of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, each able to carry 16 Ka-27 series helicopters. Although both vessels were completed, the political crisis after the annexation of the Crimea forced Paris to cancel the deal with Moscow and sell the ships to Egypt instead.
By that time, however, the work to restore the stored Ka-29s had begun after around a quarter-century in storage. While the propulsion systems were overhauled, the navy requested that modern avionics and mission equipment replace the outdated items. After upgrade, the helicopter received the designation Ka-29M. Twelve machines restored at Kumertau were assigned to the Pacific Fleet in 2016-2017. In the absence of suitable ships, however, they have been operating from ground bases and, occasionally, from frigates and coastal patrol vessels.
Armed and able to transport 16 armed troops, the Ka-29M has proved useful for naval border protection, anti-piracy, and counter-terrorism operations. The helicopter has also showed its worth on cargo transport tasks—carrying two tonnes internally or four tonnes underslung—and ambulance duties, in which it can carry up to 10 wounded, including four on stretchers. Subsequently, the navy voiced its intent to operate these helicopters from newly built Project 22160 patrol ships.
Two years ago, the service relocated a few Ka-29s to the Baltic Fleet for participation in sea trials of two newly constructed Project 11711 landing ships, each carrying two helicopters. Earlier this summer, two more ships of the class were laid down, to be built to an improved design accommodating four helicopters.
Additionally, the navy is considering plans for several new amphibious assault ships with aviation groups employing Ka-52K Katran and Ka-29M rotorcraft. There are also plans to restore the only surviving Project 1174 ship (Alexander Nikolayev) back into an operational condition.