Russia’s air operation in Syria is the most spectacular event to hit the radar screen recently. It is the first time in the post-Soviet history the Russian Armed Forces were deployed and extensively used in real combat conditions beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union.
The Syrian campaign is the largest engagement of the Russian Aerospace Forces unparalleled in the history of Russian (and even Soviet) military aviation in terms of complexity, intensity and distance from home bases. The operation was the first major practical test for Russia’s reborn military might in the air and it has been passed with flying colors.
Actually, helicopters play the role of working horses in Syria operating around the clock and under unfavorable weather conditions. They protect the bases and facilities, conduct search and rescue operations and strike the enemy targets with great accuracy any time day or night. Lieutenant General Sergey Rudskoy, the head of the main operations Directorate of the General staff of the Russian Federation, said «on average the Russian aircraft performed 20-25 sorties daily».
On April 3, Ka-52 «Alligator» (NATO designation Hokum-B), touted as a «flying tank», proved to be an effective combat helicopter striking Islamic State (IS) formations during the battle to liberate the Syrian city of Al-Qaryatayn.
The Alligator is an all-weather combat helicopter developed by Kamov Design Bureau. It is a twin-seat version of the Ka-50 gunship designed to attack hardened ground targets and low-speed aircraft. The mass production started in 2008.
The deployment in Syria is an opportunity to test new technologies, such as the KRET Vitebsk EW (Electronic Warfare) system with directed infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) capability. The Vitebsk system includes radar and laser warning systems, as well as active electro-optic and radar jammers. DIRCMs are designed to defeat infrared-guided surface-to-air missile systems. Syrian rebels have been reported to possess and use such systems, but they have failed to hit the Ka-52 so far reportedly due to effective countermeasures. The system allows an airplane or helicopter to control the skies at a range of several hundred kilometers.
It can detect an incoming missile in time to make it miss the target. This capability applies to all missiles, whether equipped with radar, infrared, or combined guidance systems. Once installed, the Vitebsk can protect not only the helicopter itself, but other friendly assets within a certain range, forming an «electronic canopy» around the potential targets to be protected from enemy’s fire. A manufacturer’s source said, «when this system is onboard, it can protect not only the helicopter or plane, but everything within a certain radius, forming an «electronic canopy» around the object being protected».
It’s worth to note that Ka-50 and its modernized version Ka-52 are the world's only operational helicopters with a rescue ejection system, which allows the crew to escape at all altitudes and speeds. Human life is a priority.
The aircraft has two radars for detection of air and ground targets. Samshite night/daytime thermal sighting system is housed in two spherical turrets, one above the cockpit and the other below the nose.
The helicopter has a TV, Facelift Image Replacement (FLIR), laser range-finder, and target designator. The FLIR is integrated with a Shkval electro-optical sighting system. A ball-shaped structure is installed under the fuselage for optical detection. The laser range-finder and IR camera are fitted in the nose turret.
The multi-functional avionics suite of Ka-52 consists of a multi-level digital computer-based system, a Topol helmet-mounted sight display, observation, search and targeting systems. The multiplexed bus system carries out several missions, including navigation and weapons systems control.
The aircraft can mount a wide range of weapons systems. It is a clear advantage, if the rotary wing aircraft is compared to its foreign analogues. The armament includes six laser-guided Vikhr anti-tank missiles and two B8V-20 rocket pods for S-8 80mm air-to-surface rockets. The Vikhr missile can engage armoured ground targets within the range of 8km to 10km. The Ka-52 features six wing-mounted hardpoints. There are twin Igla light air-to-air missile launchers under each wingtip pod (total 4 missiles).
A 30mm Shipunov 2A42 automatic cannon is fitted on the starboard side of the fuselage. The gun has a dual feed for high explosive and armor piercing rounds. It can engage ground targets within a range of 1,500m as well as low flying targets within a range of 2,500m.
The fire control system provides for automatic information exchange in real time, allowing one helicopter to engage a target spotted by another aircraft. The system can also receive guidance data from sources on the ground.
The organic countermeasures suite includes helicopter active IR and electronic jamming units, Pastel (L150) RWR, Mak (L136) IR and Otklik (L140) laser warning systems. UV-26 dispensers fitted on the under wing pods can fire flare/chaff decoys to deceive incoming anti-aircraft missiles.
Ka-52 is powered by two VK-2500 (TV3-117VMA-SB3) turbo-shaft engines, each rated at 1,863kW. The fuel tanks are made of explosion-proof materials.
The Ka-52 can fly at a maximum speed of 310km/h. Cruising and lateral speeds of the helicopter are 250km/h and 80km/h respectively. The maximum take-off weight is 10,800kg. The helicopter can climb at a rate of 10m/s to the maximum altitude of 3,600m. The practical flight range is 520km.
Summing it all up, the aircraft has the following advantages to make it stand out among its rivals in other countries:
- a wide range of weapons can be installed for specific missions
- it can operate at any time and under any weather conditions
- the Ka-52 is capable of detecting enemy targets at long distances to share the information with other assets
- the helicopter has powerful EW suite to counter the enemy’s efforts to detect it
- the coaxial rotor system makes it highly maneuverable
- the gunship can operate in hot climate, as well as under severe winter conditions. This feature is especially important for marketing purposes.
- the Ka-52 can be furnished with different equipment depending on the specific missions.
In his comments during the international military aviation competition Aviadarts-2015 in the city of Voronezh Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, the Commander of the Russian Air Force, said «I think it is clear that this is the most superb helicopter in the world». The Ka-52 performance greatly impressed public, experts and foreign defense attaches.
All major world ratings depict it as one of the 10 best in the world.
It is also on the list of the 10 fastest helicopters.
The Ka-52 is vying to be named the most powerful attack rotary wing aircraft on the planet.
The gunship is already a market success. Russia and Egypt signed a contract for delivery of 46 K-52s (Ka-52K naval version) helicopters. Egyptian Ka-52s are to be equipped with the new OES-52 targeting system allowing them to launch Vikhr and Ataka anti-tank guided missiles using laser target direction systems. They will also have President-S airborne defense systems installed on them. Egypt intends to buy about 2000 Vikhr and Ataka ATGMs for the Ka-52 making it the first international customer for such missiles. Deliveries are planned to start in 2017. Other countries, like India, Pakistan and many others are considering the option of procuring the Ka-52 versions modernized to meet their special needs.