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Mi-24 Hind - Combat Experience

The most widely used element of Soviet air power in the Afghan war was the helicopter. Helicopters were used extensively in varied types of military missions. Estimates of helicopter strength range from 500 to 650 machines, of which up to 250 may be the Mi-24 Hind gunships. The Hind was an extremely lethal weapon, with machine guns or cannon in the nose turret and up to 192 unguided missiles under its stub wings. It was widely used by the Soviets for punitive and search-and-destroy missions. The Hind was also used to provide close air support for ground troops, to strike Afghan villages (sometimes in conjunction with fixed-wing aircraft), and to conduct armed-reconnaissance missions to detect and attack guerrilla groups.

Combat experience quickly demonstrated the disadvantages of having Hinds carrying troops. Gunship crews found the soldiers a concern and a distraction while being shot at, and preferred to fly lightly loaded anyway, especially given their operations from high ground altitudes in Afghanistan. Hind troop compartment armor was often removed to reduce weight. Troops would be carried in Mi-8 helicopters while the Hinds provided fire support. It did prove useful to carry a technician in the Hind's crew compartment, handling a light machine gun in a window port. This gave the Hind some ability to "watch its back" while leaving a target area. In some cases a light machine gun was fitted on both sides to allow the technician to move from one side to the other without having to take the machine gun with him.

Due to its heavy armor, the Hind was nearly impervious to guerrilla small arms unless the guerrillas could fire down at the helicopters using weapons positioned high on the sides of mountains. In 1980, losses to SA-7 surface-to-air missiles (a hand-held, heat-seeking missile) led to a change in tactics at the end of 1980 or early 1981. Since then, the Hinds used nap-of-the-earth flight patterns, for which the machines were not designed nor their crews properly trained. There were reports of Hind rotors striking the rear of their own helicopters during some of these nap-of-the-earth flights. The wear on airframes and systems caused by these lower-altitude flights has also greatly increased rates of operational attrition.

In 1982 the Soviets made changes in equipment and tactics to counter the Mujahideen - the Russians increasingly relied on their 300 MI-24 combat helicopters in Afghanistan to counter the guerrillas.

After Gorbachev's assumption of power in March 1985, the Soviet forces in Afghanistan better employed their technological advantage to improve their performance. They made particularly effective use of the Mi-24 and Mi-25 Hind helicopters and of the insertion of special forces units behind enemy lines. Prior to 1985, the Soviet forces largely remained in their garrisons, and outside their garrisons, they generally only operated in armored vehicles along the main highways connecting the major cities. By 1986, the Soviet military's technological and tactical innovations (although still fixed within a conventional war paradigm) were getting results against the Mujahideen resistance.

In April 1986 the Americans decided to provide the Mujahideen with Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, and this marked a turning point in the war. Before the Stingers arrived in theater, the guerrillas had already shot down large numbers of helicopters with well-placed machine guns and RPGs. With the Stingers, the guerrillas were then able to undermine a key Soviet technological advantage - the mobility and firepower of helicopters. Estimated aircraft losses were as high as one per day, with over 270 total claimed kills. As a result, the Soviets were no longer able to use helicopter gun ships in a ground support role and the effectiveness of the Spetznaz was degraded as insertion by helicopter became limited.

By the latter half of 1993, an opposition had developed in Chechnya that evolved into a small-scale guerrilla war. The Russians initially gathered their forces at airfields in the North Caucasus Military District. Aircraft included 140 combat planes (Su-25, Su-22M, and Su-24), and military transport aircraft (An-12, An-22, An-124, and Il-76). Russia assembled close to 55 helicopters at the start of the conflict. By late March 1995, the number had risen to 105, including 52 Mi-24s. Five helicopters (two Mi- 8s and three Mi-24s) were lost to hostile fire in the first three months of the conflict.

Colonel-General of Aviation Vitaliy Pavlov, the commander of Ground Troop Aviation (an element separate from the Air Force), had flown missions in Afghani stan and was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal for his bravery. He also flew missions in Chechnya. Pavlov noted that the helicopter aviation grouping was primarily used to transport troops and evacuate the sick and wounded at the start of the con flict. They also supported the movement of columns and acted as communications relays, but only rarely served as attack helicopters. On occasion, Mi-24 helicopters and Su-25 aircraft conducted operations against guerrilla fortifications. After nearly a year of fighting, Russian pi-lots made some assess ments of their equipment, judging the Mi- 24, Mi-8, and Mi-6 helicopters as technically obsolete. These aircraft had limited deployment capabilities in terms of time of day and weather conditions. Newer helicopters, such as the Ka-50 and Mi-28, were not used.

Inadequate on-board navigation systems and poor radar limited the use of helicopters in adverse weather and at night. Technical shortcomings of on-board radar and navigation forced the Russians to employ MI-24 helicopters mostly during the day and fair weather when visibility exceeded 1.5 kilometers and pilots could get a clear look at their targets. According to Colonel General Pavlov, Commander of Russian Army Aviation, these rules meant that 95% of days in February 1995 were listed as "non-flying days."

The Second Chechen War, which began on 23 September 1999 with massive Russian air strikes, bore little resemblance to the inconclusive campaign that had ended just three years earlier. Operating from the nearby bases at Mozdok, Budyonnovsk, Kizlyar and Makhachkala, Russian Army attack helicopters and Air Force fighter-bombers flew 3,600 combat missions, including 450 close air support sorties, in the first ten weeks of the Second Chechen War. Helicopter aviation was particularly useful during the second Chechen campaign. Older helicopters, such as the Mi-8 HIP and Mi-24 HIND, provided the bulk of rotary wing support, although there were reports that the KA-50 Black Shark was combat-tested during the campaign. When working over mountains, helicopter lift decreases significantly while fuel consumption increases dramatically. This was another lesson from Afghanistan that had to be relearned. The air defense threat from antiaircraft guns and shoulder-fired missiles limited the effectiveness of attack helicopters, especially over urban terrain. Russian forces used attack helicopters extensively over terrain controlled by Russian forces. Russian commanders in Chechnya favored the Frogfoot over attack helicopters for close air support in urban terrain.

The Mi-24 generally operated within groups of tactical air command assigned to one or more particular units (of the size of a regiment for example) having a forward air controller. A group of tactical air command could include from 2 to 4 Mi-24 and 1 to 2 Mi-8. According to some sources, up to 30% of the aerial sorties were devoted to missions of "free hunting" in formations of 2 Mi-24. Targets opportunity were destroyed immediately in the zone of responsibility for the patrol. The Mi-24 was also used for search and rescue. Some Mi-24 had been urgently modernized to be able to fight at night following the experience of the first war of Chetchnia. The lack of encrypted radios was also problematic, with the rebels laying ambushes in preparation for the arrival of the Russian helicopters. The lack of pilot training was also faulted, just as the absence of system GPS obliging the pilots to count on their knowledge of the ground. Some Mi-24 were lost during the conflict. But once again, the Mil showed its robustness, several helicopters were strongly damaged (sometimes up to 30 impacts of bullets) and succeeded in returning at their bases, being repaired quickly and setting out again to combat.




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