Today, the armed forces of the leading powers include many different types of attack helicopters. But strike machines are of the greatest interest to aviation enthusiasts. After all, they have not only impressive aesthetics, but also incredible firepower. We will introduce you to the most prominent representatives of the combat helicopter industry and tell you about its prospects.
Cobras and Apaches. "Shaitan Arba" by Uncle Sam
The Americans became the founders of the attack helicopter concept. All the fault is the war in Vietnam, which gave rise to the need to create a specialized combat helicopter. It was the Bell AH-1 Cobra. However, the glory of "Cobra" was overshadowed by the legendary multi-purpose helicopter Bell UH-1 Iroquois ("Huey"), which became the symbol of the Vietnam War. Unlike the Cobra, the Huey was capable of not only attacking ground targets, but also delivering cargo and troops. It was this car that turned out to be most in demand during the Vietnamese campaign. However, after analyzing the experience of using the AH-1, the Americans came to the conclusion that the concept of an attack helicopter has a right to exist.
She received her second birth in 1972, when the US Army began a program to create a new attack helicopter. It was necessary to fight with Soviet tanks. This is how the AH-64, the famous Apache, developed by Hughes Helicopters, was born. For obvious reasons, he was not destined to prove his effectiveness in the fight against the latest Soviet armored vehicles. But the AH-64 Apache showed itself on the positive side during numerous local conflicts, and received its baptism of fire during the American invasion of Panama in 1989. But the real testing ground for the new helicopter was Operation Desert Storm in 1991. It was the AH-64, acting as part of the international coalition, that defeated Saddam Hussein's army. Since then, the Apache has been an integral part of any American military conflict.
And here is the first large-scale modification of the helicopter - AH-64A. The crew of the car is two people. Not bad booking of the cockpit and vital systems made it possible to survive during shelling from the ground. First of all, the armor protected the car from bullets and small-caliber anti-aircraft artillery. Since the main task of the helicopter was to combat enemy armored vehicles, the armament was appropriate. Its basis was the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) with semi-active laser guidance. "Apache" could take on board up to sixteen such ATGMs. In addition to guided missiles, the AH-64's armament range includes a 30 mm cannon and unguided rockets.
In 1995, a new modification of the AH-64 - AH-64D was adopted by the US Army. The new Apache was destined to become the backbone of the US Ground Forces strike aircraft for many years. The AH-64D has become an all-weather combat helicopter capable of performing combat missions with equal efficiency day and night, in any weather conditions. The Americans have modernized many of the helicopter's onboard electronics, turning it into a real flying computer. The main innovation of this machine is a millimeter-wave radar station. It was housed in a special container mounted above the rotor. The APG-78 radar allowed the Apache to detect and recognize ground targets at a distance of up to 8 km.Nowadays, when a combat helicopter has to deal with advanced anti-aircraft missile systems, the use of such a radar can save the helicopter itself and the lives of its crew. The AH-64D operator can aim guided and unguided weapons at the target using the TADS electro-optical system. It allows you to effectively detect ground targets in the television and infrared ranges. One of the main features of the helicopter is the ability to communicate with other army units. A significant difference between the AH-64D Apache Longbow and the first serial modification was that the new helicopter received an improved Hellfire complex - AGM-114L with a radar guidance system. Such a complex allowed the helicopter to launch ATGMs without prior visual contact with the target. Target detection and guided weapons aiming at it became the prerogative of onboard electronics, and the crew was able to operate from cover. With the installation of the radar, there was no need to illuminate the target with a laser until the missile hits it. Now the pilot and the operator could work on the "let it go and forget it" principle. The new Russian Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters should soon learn to do this.
“Shaitan arba” (translated from Arabic “devil's chariot”) - this is how the Afghan Mujahideen nicknamed the Mi-24 helicopter. Soviet "Crocodiles" could almost unhindered strike at the positions of dushmans up to the appearance of the latter man-portable anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADS). The use of MANPADS by the mujahideen forced the Soviet pilots to change tactics. Now they flew at extremely low altitude, maneuvering between the hills.
So far, the AH-64D is the main US attack helicopter. And it seems to completely suit the US military command, however, when it comes to weapons, the Americans do not like to stand still. A new modification of the Apache, the AH-64E, is already ready. Apparently, it is this machine that is destined to take the title of the main US attack helicopter in the near future. This is understandable, because the AH-64E has incorporated all the best from its predecessors. The armament range of the new helicopter is almost identical to the AH-64D. But what has appeared: greater possibilities of electronic interaction, improved on-board electronics, wider use of composite materials in the structure, increased engine power, increased flight speed. Boeing recently donated the first 28 AH-64Es to the US Army. All in all, 634 helicopters of this modification will be produced for the American military.
One of the most ambitious projects in the history of helicopter engineering is the American reconnaissance and attack helicopter Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche. The Comanche became the world's first stealth helicopter. But, having spent nearly 8 (!) Billion dollars, the USA curtailed the program in 2004. The main reason for this decision was the Iraqi combat experience, which demonstrated the capabilities of drones.
The Americans did not forget about the progenitor of all attack helicopters - the AH-1 Cobra. In our time, various modifications of the AH-1 are in service with the United States Marine Corps (ILC) aviation. Of course, the AH-1 has undergone numerous upgrades since the Vietnam War. In 1986, the Marines began operating the AH-1W Super Cobra. The car was successful. The Supercobra is to this day the main attack helicopter of the USMC. Moreover, a new attack helicopter, the AH-1Z Viper, was developed on its basis. Essentially a deep modernization of the AH-1 Cobra, the Viper has evolved into a high-tech weapon of the 21st century. New composite materials are widely used in the construction of the AH-1Z. Instead of a two-bladed main rotor, a four-bladed one was installed, significantly increasing the survivability of the machine. The attack helicopter received improved electronics: the new NTS (Night Targeting System) sighting system allowed it to effectively engage targets at any time of the day, in any weather conditions.
As is often the case, the increased combat capabilities had to pay with the significantly increased mass of the aircraft. An empty "Viper" is heavier than its predecessor "Supercobra" by more than half a ton. The price has also increased. If the AH-1W Super Cobra cost about 10 million dollars, then the new helicopter - 27 million. At the same time, the armament of the "Viper" is not too different from the nomenclature of means of destruction of the "Supercobra". The guided weapons included the BGM-71 TOW ATGM, as well as the AGM-114 Hellfire. And those and others "Viper" can take on board up to sixteen pieces. Of course, the AH-1Z has a cannon and can use unguided rockets. Like the Supercobra, the new helicopter is capable of using short-range air-to-air missiles AIM-9L Sidewinder. However, this is only an optional feature. The helicopter will be used last to hit air targets.
Perhaps the most notable episode of the second Iraqi campaign is the alleged defeat by an Iraqi peasant of the American AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. Immediately after the discovery of the helicopter, the Iraqi authorities announced that the Apache had been shot down with a hunting rifle. In fact, no one shot down the helicopter. Abandoned by the crew, the AH-64 was discovered by Iraqi peasants by accident.
Russia: "Night Hunter" and "Alligator"
The world famous "Crocodile" - Mi-24 was conceived as a multifunctional vehicle capable of attacking ground targets and transporting cargo and troops. The realities of the Afghan war forced the Soviet military command to reconsider this concept. The Mi-24 has proven itself very well in the role of an attack helicopter. The Mi-8 took over the functions of a military transport helicopter.
In the late 80s, the Soviet military did not reinvent the wheel and followed the proven American path. This is how the first domestic specialized attack helicopters appeared. But fate was not too supportive of the firstborn. Neither the Mi-28A, nor even the legendary "Black Shark" (Ka-50 "Black Shark") was destined to go into production.
The situation began to change in the second half of the 2000s. It was then that the first contract was signed for the supply of a large batch of attack helicopters to the Russian Air Force. The Ministry of Defense gave preference to the Mil design bureau's two-seater helicopter concept. The single Ka-50 was finally abandoned. There is still debate about whether this decision was correct. In any case, the choice of the Mi-28 as the main attack helicopter can be considered appropriate. The "tandem" concept of an attack helicopter, when the crew is in the cockpit one behind the other, has repeatedly proved its effectiveness. The Americans took this path, and the Russian military took into account their combat experience.
The stake was made on the all-weather Mi-28N helicopter at night. It is the "Night Hunter", as it was dubbed, in the future, along with the Ka-52, will become the main attack helicopter in Russia. What is remarkable about the new car? Unlike its predecessors, the Mi-28N will be able to perform its assigned tasks day and night, in bad weather conditions. The sighting system allows the helicopter to find and recognize targets at a distance of up to 10 km. The basis of its armament is the Ataka-V anti-tank complex. The missile launch range is 10 km. The Mi-28N is noticeably heavier than its direct overseas counterpart, the Apache. The weight of an empty helicopter exceeds eight tons versus five tons for the modernized AN-64. But the engines of the domestic car are much more powerful. In emergency mode, their total capacity is 2700 liters. with., while the maximum power of the engines of the newest AH-64E is 2000 hp. with. The Mi-28N has the best armor protection. Its cockpit is capable of withstanding a direct hit from 12 mm bullets and light anti-aircraft artillery shells. According to the military themselves, the Mi-28N is resistant even to 30 mm projectiles. However, in real combat conditions it is better not to check an expensive combat vehicle for survivability.The most effective way to avoid damage is to work outside the enemy's area of impact. This could be facilitated by a radar such as that used on Apache Longbow helicopters. The millimeter radar station for the Mi-28N was named H025. Like its American counterpart, it can detect and classify potential threats. So far, the development of a new radar station has not been completed, and no one can say with certainty the exact timing of its commissioning. The helicopter equipped with a radar will receive the Mi-28NM index. Most likely, we will not soon see the radar station on production vehicles. As you know, testing new complexes of aviation electronics is a long and extremely costly process.
But with the radar station for the new Russian Ka-52 helicopter, the situation is more or less clear. According to Yuri Guskov, General Designer of the Fazotron-NIIR Corporation, the FH01 radar system for the Ka-52 helicopter has already passed all the necessary tests and is in serial production. To date, OJSC has supplied the manufacturer with more than four dozen such complexes, and they are equipped with all Ka-52s entering service with the Russian Air Force.
The Ka-52 is a two-seat modification of the Ka-50. Moreover, the crew of the car is not "tandem", but side by side. The new helicopter inherited a complex coaxial rotor design from its progenitor Ka-50. The Alligator, as the helicopter was nicknamed in Russia, was designed as a command vehicle capable of targeting and targeting the Ka-50. But the Ministry of Defense refused the latter. Perhaps, in the future, the Ka-52 will work in conjunction with the Mi-28N, transmitting tactical information to them in real time. In this case, the "Night Hunters" may not need radar at all. It is noteworthy that the Americans implemented the same scheme, equipping only a part of the new Apache helicopters with radar stations.
In addition to advanced electronics, the Ka-52 boasts excellent flight performance, a high level of protection, and an ejection system (which is generally absent on other attack helicopters). The Alligator's armament range is comparable to the Mi-28N. Its basis is ATGM "Attack-V" with a laser guidance system. It was decided to abandon the once promising Vikhr anti-tank complex. We can say that weapons are the Achilles heel of Russian helicopters. In the future, the Ka-52 is expected to be equipped with a new generation Hermes-A missile system. This should give the rotorcraft a fundamentally new combat capabilities. The range of the Hermes-A is 15-20 km, which is almost twice the maximum launch range of the Ataka-V ATGM.
It is difficult to say which of the above attack helicopters is more advanced. The combat effectiveness of a modern aircraft is determined primarily by the level of onboard electronics. Naturally, almost all data on avionics are classified. Comparison of the same "dry" flight performance can hardly give a detailed picture. One thing is for sure - each of these helicopters has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Most likely, the functions that attack helicopters perform in our time will be taken over by unmanned vehicles in the future. But it is too early to write off the rotorcraft completely. In 2010, the Sikorsky company sent its proposals to the US Army Command for the project of a new combat rotorcraft. The projected high-speed rotorcraft was named S-97 Raider. The experimental Sikorsky X2 helicopter served as the basis for its creation.
The device is built on a coaxial scheme (similar to that used in the design of Kamov helicopters). In addition to the main rotor, the rotorcraft is equipped with an aircraft-type pusher propeller and small area wings. According to the developers, this will allow the S-97 to reach speeds of up to 460 km / h.No modern military helicopter is capable of this speed. The undoubted advantage of the S-97 design is that, unlike conventional helicopters, it will be able to fly even in high altitude conditions.
It is assumed that two modifications of the rotorcraft will be created: transport-combat and reconnaissance-strike. In the first version, the vehicle will accommodate up to six paratroopers. In the shock version, the free space behind the cockpit will accommodate the weapons bay and additional fuel tanks. But, most likely, the S-97 will never be a full replacement for the AH-64 or AH-1. The lack of the necessary booking makes it not the most suitable device for performing shock missions. On the other hand, it could be a suitable alternative to the outdated MH-6 Little Bird and OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance and attack helicopters.
In 1993, a Russian feature film was shot, the protagonist of which was the Ka-50 Black Shark helicopter. The plot of the film was developed around the testing of a new helicopter in Afghanistan. The Ka-50 was actually tested in combat conditions, but not in Afghanistan, but on the territory of Chechnya. By the way, despite its advantages, the coaxial rotor design of the helicopter is not widespread. Currently, there is only one serial attack helicopter made according to this scheme - the Ka-52.
Russian designers do not sit idly by either. In 2010, the executive director of the Russian Helicopters holding, Andrey Shibitov, said that Russian specialists were working on the concept of a "fifth generation attack helicopter." True, what exactly should be a new-generation helicopter does not seem to be known either in Russia itself or abroad. Unlike fighters, in world practice, helicopters are generally not generally divided into generations.
According to domestic developers, one of the promising projects can serve as the basis for a new combat helicopter. Currently, Russia is developing three types of high-speed helicopters: Ka-90, Ka-92 and Mi-1X. The maximum speed of the Ka-90 will have to exceed 800 km / h. The designers plan to achieve such indicators by installing a jet engine.
For a long time, information about a mysterious Russian attack helicopter, made using stealth technology, appeared on the Internet. He received the designation Ka-58 "Black Ghost". Now no one can say with certainty exactly where this information came from. Most likely, the "Black Ghost" was just a product of the imagination of aircraft modelers.
Whatever the helicopter of the future may be, it is only obvious that a full replacement for the Mi-28 and Ka-52 will be required for a very long time. This means that the military will not invest heavily in the development of fundamentally new attack helicopters. At least for now.