Russian Army Deploys Mi-28N Attack Helicopters to Neutralise Ukrainian Strongholds in Donetsk

The Russian Army was reported on January 9 to have deployed Mi-28N attack helicopters to destroy Ukrainian strongholds and attack troop concentrations in the Donetsk region. The Defence Ministry reported that “all targets were destroyed” during the operation, although not specifying how many aircraft were involved or what weaponry was utilised. Fighting in Donetsk has been among the most intense in the theatre, with Ukrainian forces reported on January 7 to have lost over 300 servicemen in under 24 hours. This corroborates a growing number of Ukrainian sources reporting similarly extreme casualty rates particularly for conscript units. Severe shortages in Ukraine’s surface to air missile arsenal has left its frontline units far less well protected, and thus allowed both attack helicopters and fighter aircraft to supplement Russia’s vast and growing superiority in firepower using artillery and surface-to-surface missile assets to further increase pressure on Ukrainian frontline units. Ukraine’s ability to fire on Russian forces has diminished significantly in recent months as the country’s artillery units and even its most elite mechanised brigades have been forced to cut ammunition expenditures to fractions of previous levels due to severe shortages. A cutting off of American military aid following the delivery of the final arms package in late December is expected to further significantly worsen the situation. 

The Mi-28 is one of the newest attack helicopter designs fielded anywhere in the world, and is a direct successor to the late Soviet era Mi-24 which is considered a broad equivalent to the top NATO attack helicopter the AH-64 Apache. While the United States invested in modernising the Apache rather than developing a new attack helicopter class, Russia invested heavily in developing both the MI-28 and the Ka-52 as entirely new 21st century aircraft, providing distinct advantages over overseas rivals. Mi-28s can each carry up to 16 anti-tank missiles or 80 80mm rockets, and have an unrivalled flight performance including a famed ability to fly backwards, as well as a strong edge over Apaches in terms of flight firepower, survivability, and ease of maintenance. The Mi-28 has primarily been seen deploying 80mm and 122mm rockets and 9M120 Ataka and LMUR anti-tank guided missiles in Ukraine. The LMUR was first seen being employed in January 2023, and provides a 15km engagement range while combining inertial, satellite and optical guidance to provide a high degree of precision. 

The latest variant of the Russian Army’s top attack helicopter the Mi-28NM was first combat tested supporting counterinsurgency operations in Syria from 2016, with its strong performance in the theatre thought to have been a major factor influencing the Defence Ministry to sign contracts for the supply of 98 more units by 2027. Improvements included integration of VK-2500P engines, a 13 percent speed increase, and integration of new sensors providing all-round visibility, as well as upgrades to fire controls and air-to-air capabilities. Army Mi-28 and Navy Ka-52 attack helicopters in 2023 took a prominent role combating Ukrainian armour from early June 2022 as the Ukrainian Military and accompanying paramilitaries attempted to launch mass offensives against Russian positions. On August 7 the chief executive officer of the Rostec state owned defence conglomerate Sergey Chemezov reported that military helicopter production under the State Defence Order had more than doubled, with 296 helicopters having been produced in 2022 alone compared to just 134, or 55 percent less, in 2021.