Russian Mi-28NM attack helicopters have continued to expand their role in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian War, with the aircraft recently sighted using a new class of anti tank missile to tackle Ukraine’s fast growing inventory of armoured vehicles. Although largely obsolete, Ukraine had by far the most numerous tank force in Europe before the outbreak of the conflict in February 2022, and quickly begun to receive more armour from NATO members with Britain recently confirming plans to deliver its own Challenger 2s. To counter these armoured units, it is estimated that over 120 Mi-28s are currently in service in the Russian Military, and aside from twin rotor Ka-52s produced by the rival Kamov Design Bureau they are considered the most potent attack helicopters operational. The aircraft first began to enter service in January 2008, after long delays caused by the Soviet Union’s disintegration and its fallout on Russia’s defence sector, making it 22 years newer than its closest Western rival the American AH-64 Apache. The Mi-28 was developed as a direct successor to the Apache’s direct Soviet counterpart the Mi-24 Hind, with the two older rivals having formed the centre of the NATO and Warsaw Pact fleets in the 1980s.
Mi-28s can each carry up to 16 anti tank missiles or 80 80mm unguided rockets each, and have a significant edge over Apaches in terms of flight performance, firepower, survivability, and ease of maintenance including a famed ability to fly backwards. The Mi-28NM, the latest variant of the helicopter which has been seen in growing numbers in Ukraine, was first deployed for combat operations in Syria in 2016. Its strong performance led the Russian Defence Ministry to sign contracts for the supply of 98 more units by 2027, with improvements including integration of VK-2500P engines, a 13% speed improvement, new sensors providing all-round visibility, and upgraded fire controls. The aircraft are also capable of conducting air to air operations, and can be armed with R-74M missiles.
The Mi-28 has primarily deployed 80mm and 122mm rockets for operations in Ukraine, but has also been seen using the 9M120 Ataka anti tank guided missile. New footage released on January 14 showed the aircraft deploying a new weapon for the first time, the LMUR missile, which was designed specifically for anti armour roles for use from helicopters. The missile was reportedly first combat tested in Syria following a protracted development, although this was unconfirmed with the scarcity of armour among insurgents in the theatre leaving only limited opportunities for meaningful tests. The LMUR is prized for its long range of close to 15km and its use of inertial, satellite and optical guidance combined to maximise precision. Equipping helicopters with the missiles provides a means of capitalising on Russia’s control of the skies to influence the balance of power on the ground in its favour, with the expected rapid growth in Ukrainian armoured warfare capabilities potentially posing a serious threat as hundred of new tanks and other armoured vehicles continue to be pledged for delivery from across several NATO member states. The LMUR’s success in Ukraine could also pave the way to export sales, not only to Algeria, Iraq and Uganda which operate the Mi-28, but also to clients for cheaper more widely used helicopters such as the Mi-8 with which the missile is also compatible.