Why Pakistan has chosen Mi35 Helicopter?

The Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pakistan in November 2014. This short visit, only one day long, made headline news because it meant a new diplomatic opening in the military field for both Pakistan and the Russian Federation. The last time such a visit had taken place was 41 years ago. The visit signified a break from the past. One major takeaway from the Russian-Pakistani meeting was the announcement of the sale of Mi35 helicopters to Pakistan.

Despite the end of the Cold War, more than 25 years ago, Pakistan and Russia have not been able to shed their inhibitions in the field of defence cooperation. The first time Pakistan imported Russian military hardware was after the American embargo on arms sale in the aftermath of the 1965 war with India. The notable purchases were T55 tanks and Mi8 helicopters.   The Pakistan Russian military collaboration fizzled out after the Soviet Union and India signed the 20 years friendship pact in August 1971. In the intervening period Pakistan purchased armament from different sources such as USA, UK, France, China and Ukraine. The Soviet legacy did not entirely disappear from the inventory of Pakistani weapons Chinese and Ukrainian tanks were basically a makeover of the T55 and T72 tanks. One lasting Soviet heritage was the Mi8 helicopter. This was later supplemented and replaced by the Mi17 cargo helicopter. Pakistani pilots have had an extensive experience in flying Russian helicopters. They have found these machines rugged and dependable.

The first attack helicopters were inducted into Pakistan army as part of the US military aid resumed during the 1980s after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. AH1S were the first Cobras received by Pakistan Army Aviation. The post 2001 military aid to Pakistan included 20 AH1F Cobras. Veteran Pakistani army aviation pilots hold Russian attack helicopters in high esteem. They got a chance to examine two Mi24 HIND helicopters at close quarters in 1980s, when their crew had defected to Pakistan and brought alongwith these unexpected gifts. Most of the inferences that the Pakistani pilots draw about Russian attack helicopters are from these Afghan helicopters e.g. they found that the Mi24 in their custody were armoured plated. The engine and belly were armour plated. The glass was reinforced and bullet proof. The cracks in the glass portions were simply bandaged and not replaced. Cobra is not armoured and is particularly vulnerable in valleys. It cannot climb up to safe altitudes.

The Mi24 helicopter is pneumatically sealed during flight and can operate in NBC environment. A filtration plant keeps the inside of the cabin clean of dust, smoke and radioactive material. The Mi24 is configured to carry bombs like aircraft, in addition to 16 unguided missiles on each side. It can also carry Anti-Aircraft Missiles (AAMs), Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), 23 mm twin barrel gun, and a 12.7 mm four barrel Gatling Gun. The Cobra attack helicopter in comparison can carry unguided rockets, TOW ATGMs and a single 20 mm canon. The Cobra is a twin seat helicopter and carries no other human cargo. The Mi24 and its various versions including the Mi35 can carry 8 combat ready troops. So the Mi24 can typically go on a strafing run and deploy or evacuate troops from an isolated post. The Mi17 can carry upto 24000 kgs of payload.

The Mi24 series helicopters have night fighting capability, while the Cobra with Pakistan Army can fly at night but cannot fire in the darkness. The M2 version of Mi24 can hover at 5000M. The Mi17 is known for its efficiency on high altitude. Pakistan Army Aviation pilots recall that the resupply missions to northern areas improved nearly tenfold after the high altitude Llamas were replaced with Mi17s.

The Mi24 has suppressors to reduce its IR signature. It has two engines as compared to a single one in case of Cobra. Mi24 and 35 have been in use of nearly 30 countries and spare parts are readily available outside Russia. US sanctions can be complete and comprehensive and are difficult to bypass and the black market has hardly any alternatives to offer for American helicopters and aircraft.

The deal on Mi35 offers a new beginning in Russia-Pakistan military relations. Pakistan will be able to diversify its fleet of ageing helicopter gunships. It will have a better machine to operate in the counter terrorism campaign against terrorists ensconced in difficult terrain and high altitudes and it should get spares from sources other than the original vendors.

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