In this conflict between Russia and Ukraine, helicopters played a key role in the early stage. On February 24, the Russian Airborne Forces took Mi-8 transport helicopters and flew hundreds of kilometers under the cover of Ka-52 and Mi-35 armed helicopters.
The U.S. military has never carried out the bold tactic of using helicopters to carry combat personnel directly into an airport near a country’s capital in previous operations, like Russian forces did while taking control of the Antonov Airport near Kyiv. Although Russia has earlier planned to provide the support of reinforcement by Il-76 aircrafts, but the reinforcements did not arrive in time. So the Russian army had to use helicopters.
However, in the follow-up operations, various types of helicopters of the Russian army, including armed and transport helicopters, were continuously shot down. According to the latest statistics, from the outbreak of the conflict on February 24 to the current day (more than 150 days) or so on, the Russian army has lost 49 helicopters on the battlefield, most of which are armed helicopters, and the loss of armed helicopters is as high as 31. The rests are transport helicopters or reconnaissance helicopters.
Ukrainian warriors of the 25th Paratrooper Brigade shot down a russian combat helicopter Ka-52 with "Igla" MANPADS.
Ka-52 is worth about $16 million. pic.twitter.com/R5OG4AqL1l
— Defence of Ukraine (@DefenceU) July 25, 2022
49 helicopters were lost in 150 days. Although this battle loss has not reached a huge level, but it is definitely not small. You must know that in the Iraq War in 2003, the number of helicopter losses of the US military was only in single digits. Through this example, we can also see the vulnerability of helicopters in modern warfare: although helicopters have strong kinetic capabilities and strong firepower, from the perspective of their own protection capabilities, even armed helicopters are relatively fragile. They are easy to be shot down by various air defense systems, individual air defense missiles and even RPG rockets and individual light weapons.
It can be said that as long as the helicopter is locked by the air defense system, the probability of the helicopter getting rid of the attack is much lower than that of the jet fighter. Moreover, the helicopter needs to fly at low altitudes in many cases, resulting in a large increase in the probability of the helicopter being attacked by various equipments. It is impossible to add heavy armor to improve its own defense like a tank. It happens that a light machine gun can easily shoot down a gunship! The helicopter itself has the disadvantage of poor defense capability. In this conflict, the Russian military helicopter suffered a lot of losses. What role does the helicopter have in modern warfare?
Although the defense capability of the gunship is insufficient, it still has a great role in today’s modern warfare. Although the armed helicopter is an aircraft, its main role is still used for land warfare, that is, ground assault and ground fire support. Compared with other combat equipment, the maneuverability of armed helicopters is unmatched by any ground equipment. In terms of firepower, heavy armed helicopters can carry more than a dozen anti-tank missiles, or a combination of missiles and rockets. Helicopter firepower is not inferior to any kind of armored combat vehicles such as tanks.
Russian Mi-28 RF-13654, Kharkiv Oblast. Shot down a few days ago. pic.twitter.com/nX5XO7cvWh
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) May 10, 2022
The speed of the gunship is fast, reaching more than 200 kilometers per hour, which is several times that of a ground armored combat vehicle. Moreover, the gunship can ignore terrain obstacles and carry out high-speed raids, even if it encounters rivers and valleys, it can easily cross. It is precisely because of this advantage that the Russian airborne troops were able to successfully break into the Antonov Airport at the beginning of this conflict. If such a force projection is carried out by ground combat vehicles, such a rushing effect cannot be achieved! Therefore, various types of helicopters, including armed helicopters, can still play a huge role in modern warfare, and they are also one of the absolute main forces in ground combat.
How to play a role and reduce battle losses depends on how to use them.
The first is the issue of tactics. Weapons and equipments play their advantages, one is their own performance, and the other is tactical tactics. In many cases, tactical tactics can make up for the lack of weapon and equipment performance. In this conflict, Russia suffered many helicopters losses. One of the reasons is that the Russian ground combat units do not cooperate well with the helicopters in the air. The Russian armed helicopters often go deep behind the enemy lines and fight alone. There will be massive destruction in such a situation. In 1973, during the Fourth Arab–Israeli War, the Israeli 190th Armoured Brigade was severely damaged by the Egyptian army with anti-tank missiles and RPGs, which is a typical example.
— m4|4v1🞡4 (@M4l4v1t4) March 7, 2022
Armed helicopters have powerful firepower and outstanding ability to strike ground targets. They are known as “tank killers”. However, in order to full potential performance of armed helicopters, they must have effective cooperation with the ground combat units. In this conflict, a Russian Mi-24 was used, the Ukrainian army ambushed in the woods with individual anti-aircraft missiles was the result of fighting alone. Gunships are not suitable for frontal rigidity. Gunships are actually suitable for playing the role of “assassins”, allowing heavy armored groups on the ground to attack frontally, hiding on the side to find a suitable opportunity to kill the enemy with one hit!
The second is to enhance its own protection capabilities. One of the protection capabilities of armed helicopters is hard protection, and the other is soft protection. Hard protection is to enhance the defense ability of its own armor. Although gunships cannot install heavy armor like main battle tanks, modern gunships can make use of composite armor with relatively light installation weight but good defense ability to improve counter-strike ability, but armed Helicopter installation protective armor can only be installed in key parts such as the cabin, hatch, engine, etc., and cannot be fully installed on the entire fuselage. Moreover, even such armor is difficult to resist the attack of anti-aircraft missiles, which requires soft defense to cooperate.
Soft defense means that armed helicopters should be equipped with electronic combat systems, infrared jamming systems and other defense equipments to counter the threat of incoming missiles, or even directly destroy the opponent’s ground detection system so that they cannot detect armed helicopters. Many simple individual air defense missiles or RPG rockets have poor anti-jamming capabilities. Armed helicopters rely on defensive armor, electromagnetic/infrared interference, and their own maneuvering evasion capabilities to avoid many attacks. The defense systems of many of the older helicopters of Russia are not comprehensive, which is one of the reasons for the large number of shot downs.
Another point is to achieve coordination between equipments. In fact, armed helicopters can be supported by other equipment in combat operations, such as dispatching large electronic warfare fighters for electromagnetic suppression. Strong electromagnetic suppression, unmanned reconnaissance aircraft can also be used to carry infrared detection equipment to hover over the battlefield for a long time or be deployed in advance over the mission route of armed helicopters, and timely develop ambushes carrying individual anti-aircraft missiles, and even scout and strike integrated drones can be used. To clear such threats in advance, this should be the coordinated operation of drones and armed helicopters.
On the whole, armed helicopters are still an important part of modern land warfare, and relying on a complete combat system can play a huge role, and the combat system has both military service and equipment cooperation.