The Russian Defence Ministry has now confirmed reports – which have been circulating for some time – that sophisticated MI28 helicopter gunships are operating in Syria.
It seems that at least one MI28 helicopter took part in the Battle for Palmyra and the number is surely greater though there is no information on the total number of MI28 helicopters deployed to Syria.
There is no official confirmation yet that the equally sophisticated KA52 helicopter gunships have also been deployed to Syria though rumours of their presence often circulate and it is quite likely they are there.
The MI28 is an exceptionally powerful battlefield helicopter. Unlike the more massive MI35, which can carry 8 troops, the more powerfully armed and agile MI28 has a crew of just two (a pilot and a weapons systems operator) and is fully dedicated to ground attack.
If the MI35 is an “aerial infantry fighting vehicle” the MI28 is an “aerial tank”.
The MI28 is the exact equivalent of the US Apache helicopter. It has similar performance and weapon load to the Apache though it is more heavily armoured.
The MI28 packs a formidable punch with a powerful 30 mm cannon and four hard points for a bewildering array of air to ground weapons including up to 16 radio guided Ataka anti tank missiles, and up to 40 S8 and or 10 larger S13 unguided rockets (the Russians are converting their S8 and S13 unguided rockets into guided missiles with laser guidance but it is not known how many of these updated missiles have been deployed yet or whether the MI28s deployed to Syria are using them).
The biggest advantage the MI28 has over the preceding MI35 is that it is more manoeuvrable and has more sophisticated electronics and guidance systems – including a radar set – which enables it to operate at night and in all weathers.
It is a formidable weapons system and potentially a force multiplier on the Syrian battlefield.
The fight against the Islamic State is its baptism of fire. It will increase the pressure on the Islamic State considerably.