Ka-52M: how the new Russian helicopter will catch up with the Apache

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This post was published in Army-news. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The Ka-52 helicopter, despite its original coaxial layout and the placement of crew members side-by-side, which is extremely unusual for attack rotary-wing aircraft, is far from the most frequent subject for discussion among aviation enthusiasts.

“Alligator” that did not become a “crocodile”

One of the reasons lies on the surface: back in the early 2000s. propaganda has eaten away the baldness with often absurd statements about the “fantastic capabilities” of the long-dead Ka-50 (the basic version of the Ka-52 “Alligator”), which, due to its shortcomings, could never have become the main attack helicopter of the Russian Air Force.

The Ka-52 is devoid of a frankly extreme single-seat layout, in which the pilot would have to feel like Julius Caesar in combat conditions. In fact, there is only one complaint about the concept of the Ka-52 helicopter, again related to the placement of the crew. With this arrangement, the commander and operator of weapons systems are deprived of the side view that pilots of the Mi-28N or Apache have.

In the case of bombers, the choice of a side-by-side scheme is caused by the problems and stresses inherent in long-term flights. Why an attack helicopter needs such “happiness” is a big question.

However, this is not what interests us more. Let’s talk better about the onboard electronics and weapons of the Ka-52. Everything here is rather ambiguous. At first glance, the helicopter has a very serious advantage over many other aircraft of this class, including the Mi-28N (but not the Mi-28NM).

He received a millimeter-wave crossbow forward-looking radar complex, which makes it possible to identify obstacles and ground targets and more effectively hit the latter. And also to fly at extremely low altitudes, in the terrain mapping mode.

The situation was spoiled by “childhood illnesses”. You can, of course, read the victorious reports of the Russian Ministry of Defense, but the assessment of other countries will be much more objective. In our case, there is only one such country – Egypt. In 2018, the Defense Blog reported that the Arab military was unhappy with the export of the Ka-52 and wanted to buy more Apaches.

“The new Ka-52 has technical problems with the propulsion system, avionics, navigation systems and night vision systems. In hot climatic conditions, the Ka-52 engine significantly loses power in different flight modes,” writes the Defense Blog. There is also an alternative assessment. So, according to the Egyptian general Tarek Saad Zaglyul, the Russian car is not inferior to the Apache.

However, you need to understand that rumors rarely come out of nowhere, and a professional military man, most likely, will not openly criticize his department for fear of unnecessary difficulties.

New helicopter?

The need for modernization is recognized in Russia itself. One of the problems is clearly visible to everyone: this is archaic air-to-surface weapons. We are talking, in particular, about an anti-tank missile of the “Attack” complex with a maximum range of about 6 km and a radio command guidance system. Such a complex cannot always ensure effective engagement of targets in difficult combat conditions. It can be put simply: it is morally outdated.

In 2017, a photo appeared on the network showing the “Syrian” Ka-52 armed with the Vikhr-1 anti-tank guided missile. Such a complex, of course, is better than Attack, but it was good in the 80s, when it was being developed.

Now, when the United States is switching to the AGM-179 JAGM ATGM with the implementation of the “fire-and-forget” principle, the missile that needs to be guided by a laser beam is hardly modern. In difficult combat conditions, this is not only a heavy load on the crew, but also a significant risk for the helicopter to be shot down, since until the moment the target is hit, the machine cannot make sharp maneuvers without fear of disrupting the capture. By the way, this once again demonstrates how “strange” the concept of the Ka-50 was, using these same “Whirlwinds”.

By the way, it is pertinent to recall that this principle of “fire and forget” was implemented on their “turntables” not only by the Americans, but also by the Germans. The Eurocopter Tiger in the Bundeswehr version has the ability to use PARS 3 LR missiles with a range of more than 7 km. This example (Europe is often criticized for its “disregard” of defense) clearly shows how much Russian helicopter weapons systems have lagged behind in recent decades.

Fortunately for the RF Air Force, the upgraded Ka-52 is likely to have a much more serious strike potential. In May of this year, the TASS agency reported that the upgraded Ka-52M helicopter will have much broader capabilities to engage ground and air targets than the basic version.

“Work is underway to further increase the detection and recognition range of targets and, accordingly, to increase the possibilities of using weapons for work, both on the ground and in the air,” the press service of the Russian Helicopters holding said.

It is also known that the range of weapons of the Ka-52M will be unified with the Mi helicopters. The range of the helicopter will also be increased.

And this is where the fun begins. Recall that in the spring of this year it became known that Russia is testing a new missile in Syria, which is designed for the promising Mi-28NM attack helicopter. It received the name “product 305”. According to data from open sources, the missile is capable of hitting targets at a distance of more than 25 km, using an inertial system in the first leg of the flight and a multispectral homing head in the last.

Thus, we are talking about an analogue (albeit rather conventional) of the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missiles and the aforementioned AGM-179 JAGM, which use the “fire and forget” principle. At the same time, the range of the Russian missile, according to the sources, is almost twice as high.

As for the “product 305”, its high performance is largely achieved through the use of a “duck” aerodynamic scheme with developed nose aerodynamic rudders. In addition, according to experts, due to the large dive angles on the target (60-70 degrees), the rocket will be able to easily break through to the target, and it is not so afraid of Western active defense systems such as Trophy and Iron Fist. There is logic in this.

Finally, regarding the Ka-52M helicopter itself. We must assume that soon we will be able to see the first of these machines.

“There is a new development work that we have started to carry out on further modernization this year. We hope that next year we will be able to enter into a contract, for our part, we will make every effort to make it work by analogy with the Mi-28 – so that we enter into a long-term contract with the Ka-52 in a modernized form,” said the head of the holding Andrey Boginsky in December 2019.

Despite the somewhat vague deadlines, we can say for sure that such an increase will play into the hands of the RF Aerospace Forces. Even regardless of the course of testing “product 305” or some other promising ATGM.

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