By: Warren Gray
Based upon the U.S. Army’s highly-successful experiences in the Vietnam War with the Bell UH-1B/C/D/H Iroquois (or “Huey”) transport helicopter and Bell AH-1GCobra helicopter gunship from 1962 to 1973, Soviet designer Mikhail Mil decided to create an all-new, tactical “assault” helicopter that could easily perform both functions at the same time. His initial, V-24 concept could transport eight armed, infantry troops inside, while also serving as a gunship, with small wings holding six missiles or rockets, and a twin-barrel, GSh-23L 23mm cannon attached to one of the landing skids.
The Soviet armed forces insisted upon several changes, however, including a rapid-fire, four-barrel, Yakushev-Borzov Yak-B 12.7mm (.50-caliber) Gatling gun mounted in a rotating, chin turret instead of the 23mm cannon, and the use of the radio-command-guided, supersonic, 9K114 Shturm (“Storm,” or AT-6 Spiral, in NATO terminology) anti-tank missile. Renamed the Mi-24 (NATO called it the “Hind”), the design entered full production in 1970, and was officially adopted by the Soviet Air Force in 1972, as a large, streamlined, and very fast (208 miles per hour), helicopter gunship. Russian pilots affectionately called it the “flying tank,” or, because of its long (65 feet, including the rotors), sleek lines, greenish camouflage patterns, and menacing, deadly appearance, the Krokodil (“Crocodile.”)
The later, Mi-24 gunship series mounted tandem cockpits for the pilot (in back) and weapon systems officer/gunner (in front) with bubble canopies, a passenger compartment holding eight soldiers, twin, overhead, turbine engines, a five-blade, main rotor assembly, and a three-blade, tail rotor. Considerable attention was paid to making it fast, including retracting, tricycle landing gear to reduce drag, and at high speeds, the small, stub wings provided literally one-quarter of the total lift of the aircraft.
The Mi-24 fuselage was heavily-armored, with titanium-armored tubs around both cockpits, beneath the passenger-cabin floor, with titanium rotor blades, and ballistic-resistant windscreens, all capable of sustaining a direct hit from a .50-caliber machine gun with minimal damage.
Standard weapons loadout was one 12.7mm nose gun, aimed by the gunner’s monocular, helmet-mounted sight (HMS) and display system (which was reportedly reverse-engineered from an original HMS on an American AH-1G Cobra gunship that was shot down in Vietnam), and six underwing stations with four UB-16-57UMProcket pods, each filled with 16 unguided, 57mm S-5Mrockets, or UB-32 pods with 32 rockets each, and four anti-tank missiles on the outboard stations.
The earlier, Mi-24AHind-A variant however, failed to meet the military’s desired specifications, having a glass, “greenhouse” nose section instead of the bubble canopies, with only a single-barrel, Afanasev A-12.7 heavy machine gun in the nose instead of the requested Gatling gun, and subsonic (Mach .5) 9M17 Fleyta (“Flute,” or AT-2B/C Swatter-B/C, which only hit their targets about 30 percent of the time) anti-tank missiles instead of the supersonic Spirals. Approximately 240 examples of the original Mi-24Awere produced.
But improvements were made quickly, and the upgraded, Mi-24D Hind-D was soon available, entering service in 1976, and finally introducing the tandem cockpits of all later models, the Yak-B Gatling gun with 1,470 rounds of ammunition, and 9M17P Falanga-P, or Skorpion-P (improved AT-2C Swatters, but still subsonic), plus the ability to carry light bombs (550 to 1,100-pounds each, of ordinary, iron bombs) and other weapons. The export version was called the Mi-25, and about 650 Mi-24Ds and Mi-25s were eventually produced.
By 1976, the Mi-24VHind-E entered production, finally gaining the desired, tube-launched, AT-6 Spiral supersonic missiles specified by the Soviet Air Force from the very beginning. It also offered uprated, Isotov TV3-117 turboshaft engines for hot weather and high-altitude operations, as well as improved radios and avionics systems. The export version was designated the Mi-35 Monsoon, and these were the most widely-manufactured variants of the Hind, with more than 1,500 made. This was also the year that the Mi-24 Hind-D/E was formally adopted into Soviet military service.
The subsequent, Mi-24P (“P” for Pushka, meaning “Cannon”) Hind-F model, entering production in 1981, replaced the 12.7mm Gatling gun turret with a fixed, twin-barrel, 30mm, GSh-30-2K autocannon on the right side of the cockpit area, but was otherwise unchanged from the Hind-E. Its export variant was the Mi-35P, and the Mil factory constructed 620 of these models. The 30x165mm weapon was excessively heavy, carried too little ammunition (750 rounds), and generated bone-jarring recoil, so the designers once again revised the potent gunship.
By this time, the deadly, Hind gunship series had already seen limited, combat action in the Ogaden War of 1977 to 1978, flying with Ethiopian forces against Somalia, and the Chadian-Libyan Conflict of 1978 to 1987, in which the Libyan Air Force flew Mi-24As and Mi-25s as they intervened in Chad’s civil war. Three of these early aircraft were later captured, and were sent to France, which in turn gave one to the United Kingdom, and one to the United States for exploitation.
But the Mi-24 Hind soon became world-famous during the extensive, Soviet-Afghan War of 1979 to 1989, primarily for attacking the mujaheddininsurgent fighters. Approximately 250 Hind-D/E/F models saw combat action there over the years following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 27, 1979, which took the Jimmy Carter administration in the United States completely by surprise, and at that time, it was the most-feared helicopter in the world, known to the elusive, Afghan rebels as Shaitan-Arba (“Satan’s Chariot.”)
The Hind/Krokodil was extremely popular with Soviet troops on the ground, since it could loiter over a target area and provide fire support for a long time, but the standard, 57mm rockets proved too light to be effective, fanning out inaccurately, and with a small warhead that was only good for “tickling the dookhi’s (mujaheddin) heels.”
So, a shift was made to larger, heavier, 80mm S-8 rockets instead, mounted in B-8V20 20-round pods. UPK-23-250 gun pods also saw effective usage in battle, each carrying a GSh-23L23mm cannon with 250 rounds of ammunition. Bomb loads included up to 10 220-pound, iron bombs, or four larger bombs, for hitting hardened targets. Controversial, fuel-air explosives were also utilized, but Hind crews often underestimated the sheer, blast force of such weapons, and were frequently caught by the shock waves.
Bitter, combat experience over the years proved that carrying troops into action in the passenger cabin was a major concern, and a significant distraction while being shot at. The gunship crews preferred to fly lightly-loaded, anyway, especially in the high-altitude environments of mountainous Afghanistan, and the cabin armor was often removed to save weight. Troops would be transported in unarmed, Mi-8 Hip-C/H helicopters instead, and escorted by Hind gunships.
Meanwhile, the flight engineer, or third crew member in an Mi-24, remained in the cabin, and was sometimes provided with one or two PKB machine guns firing out the side doors from window ports, to protect the helicopters from as many directions as possible. The Hinds would engage in “hunter-killer” sweeps, operating at least in pairs, but usually in groups of four to eight for mutual support.
So, the mujaheddin learned to move mostly at night, since the Mi-24s lacked night-vision sensors at that time, and the Soviets would drop parachute flares to illuminate a target area for night attack.
Mi-24 aircrew members unlucky enough to be shot down by Islamic insurgents found that the enemy was not only brutal, but barbaric, horribly torturing their captives, and even skinning several unfortunate, Russian aviators alive. The tiny, standard-issue, Makarov PM service pistol in 9x18mm was wholly inadequate against mujaheddin adversaries armed with AK-47s or similar weapons, so the Hind crews began carrying the short, ultra-compact, AKS-74U carbine, as well, favored by tank crews and SpetsNazcommandos, as a personal-defense/survival weapon.
The AKS-74U, in service since 1979, was a six-pound weapon, with an 8.1-inch barrel, measuring only 19.7 inches long with the side-folding stock folded, and using 30-round magazines of 5.45x39mm ammunition. The weapon was often shoved down beside the cockpit seats, but a special, leg holster was created and widely issued, holding the gun much like a very large pistol, with the magazine removed until needed. Hind crews flying from Russian bases in Syria, even today, still use the very-compact, no-longer-produced, AKS-74U weapon, for the same reasons as in the past.
Kalashnikov has recently produced the ultra-compact, MA and AM-17 carbines to eventually replace the handy AKS-74U, but they have not yet been fielded in significant numbers, so the older design continues to soldier on, even 27 years after production officially ended. The 1980s-vintage leg holster, however, is no longer in use.
The entire tide of the war changed dramatically when U.S. President Ronald Reagan officially authorized Operation Cyclone, the largest, longest, and most-expensive, CIA covert operation in history, in which CIA paramilitary operatives funneled plausibly-deniable, Soviet-manufactured weapons from warehouses in Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, through Pakistan and into the hands of mujaheddinguerillas in Afghanistan.
The real turning point of Cyclone came on September 26, 1986, with the Afghan insurgents finally receiving FIM-92A/B Stinger shoulder-fired, antiaircraft missiles from the United States, with nearly 2,500 such weapons supplied over the next two years. The heat-seeking Stinger was amazingly accurate, and three Soviet helicopters were shot down on that fateful day, with satellite imagery of the wreckage transmitted to CIA headquarters almost immediately, to prove their stunning effectiveness.
According to CIA and Pakistani estimates, FIM-92 Stinger missiles shot down nearly 270 Soviet aircraft (or only 29, according to Soviet sources, which routinely and grossly understated their losses, such as in the Georgia-Russia War of 2008, where the Russians claimed only six aircraft lost, but the actual number was 23, as verified by film footage, photos, actual wreckage, and POWs exchanged later) between late 1986 and early 1989, including mostly Mi-8 Hip and Mi-24 Hind helicopters, and Su-25 Frogfoot-A ground-attack fighters. Soviet losses in the lengthy war were so staggering that within the next two and a half years, by February 15, 1989, they withdrew in humiliating defeat, having suffered over 14,000 men killed and 50,000 wounded.
Earlier, President Reagan had authorized the deployment of 108 super-accurate (to within a mere 100 feet), hypersonic (Mach 8+), Pershing II nuclearmissiles with 80-kiloton warheads into West Germany in 1983 to 1985, to counter the Soviet proliferation of SS-20 Saber mobile missiles. This was a terrifying development for the Soviet Union, which had slower-moving, cruise missiles to counter our slow, cruise missiles in Europe, but they had nothing comparable to the blazingly-fast, Pershing II, which could not miss its target, and was virtually unstoppable. It scared the living daylights out of the Russians.
So, military defeated in the Cold War in Europe, and now on the battlefields of Afghanistan, by Reagan and other determined Americans who never fired a shot themselves, the Russians retreated in disarray, and the once-mighty Soviet Union totally collapsed on Christmas Day 1991. The Cold War was finally, officially over.
As a direct result of Operation Cyclone, Soviet Hinds began to be equipped with a radar homing and warning (RHAW) system, infrared-suppressing exhaust nozzles, an infrared jammer, and magnesium flares for decoying heat-seeking missiles.
Very soon afterward, also in 1989, the Mi-24VP Hind-E Modified was created, which was essentially a standard Hind-E, but the 12.7mm Gatling gun was replaced by a GSh-23L twin-barrel, 23mm cannon in the nose, with 450 rounds of ammunition, as was originally proposed by Mikhail Mil, but this time in a movable, turret configuration. Only 25 were ever constructed, however, because production was curtailed early due to ammunition-feeding problems, which were subsequently corrected.
Today, only about eight of them remain airworthy, with the Russian Navy at Chkalovsk Naval Air Base in the Kaliningrad Region, beside the Baltic Sea. Their favored weapons load, based upon photographed helicopters, seems to be a pair of large, GUV-8700 gun pods, each mounting a four-barrel, fifty-caliber, Yak-B Gatling gun between a pair of smaller, four-barrel, GShG-7.62 Gatling guns, for a very heavy volume of gunfire against exposed, ground targets. They also carried twin, 80mm rocket pods under their stub wings, as well as quad, AT-6 Spiral anti-tank missiles.
Meanwhile, Hind gunships continued to see combat action in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 to 1988, with the Iraqi Army, including some air-to-air engagements against U.S.-supplied, Iranian AH-1J SeaCobra gunships, with the final tally coming in at six Mi-25s and 10 SeaCobras destroyed. Mi-24s and 25s also took part in various, subsequent wars in Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Peru, the First Gulf War of 1991 (with the Iraqi Army), Sierra Leone, Abkhazia, and Croatia by the early 1990s. Next came the First and Second Chechen Wars, the Cenepa War in Ecuador, the Sudanese Civil War, First and Second Congo Wars, and the Kosovo War, all before the year 2000.
In 2000, this author had the opportunity to inspect and climb aboard an Mi-24V Hind-E of the 87th Combat Helicopter Regiment of the Hungarian Land Command at Szentkirályszabadja (I can still pronounce it correctly, even after 20 years) Air Base near Veszprém. Despite its age and lack of sophistication by modern standards, the Hind-E was still a potent, impressive, and very deadly machine. This unit was later disbanded in 2004.
Hind gunships were next involved in the Macedonian Conflict of 2001, the Ivorian Civil War, and the War in Afghanistan, since 2001, where Major Caleb Nimmo, advising the Afghan Army Air Corps, became the first American to fly the Mi-35 Hind, or any Russian helicopter, for that matter, in combat. Mi-24s, 25s, and 35s later fought in Iraq, Somalia, the Georgia-Russia War of 2008 (on both sides), Chad, Libya, Ivory Coast, in Syria since 2013, Myanmar, Iraq again in 2013 to 2014, Crimea, Ukraine, Chad, and Nagorno-Karabakh in 2014 to 2016.
In 2007, the Russian Air Force announced that it would retire its Hind gunships, and replace them with Mi-28NHavocs and Ka-52 Alligators by 2015. But after the Mi-24’s successful operations in Syria, the decision was made to keep it in service, and upgrade it with new electronics, gun sights, missiles, and night-vision goggles.
The Mi-24/25/35 Hind gunship series is currently operated by no less than 60 nations, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Belarus, Brazil, Cuba, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Syria, Ukraine, the United States Army (for testing and evaluation only), Venezuela, and Yemen, so it’s very clearly a successful, enduring, and well-sought-after design. Approximately 1,500 Hinds remain in service worldwide, of about 2,700 produced, and the Russian Air Force and Army currently fly 330 of them.
One Russian unit of particular concern to NATO is the 15thArmy Aviation Brigade, only recently created in 2013, at Ostrov Air Base in the Pskov Region, situated just 21 miles from the Latvian border, and 45 miles from the Estonian border, in case of any potential, Russian aggression against the Baltic States, which are now all NATO members. Ostrov hosts Mi-24Ps and Mi-35M1Hinds, as well as Mi-28N Havoc night-attack helicopters, and Ka-52 Alligator gunships.
There is also a Westernized version of the Hind in service with the Algerian Air Force, the Mi-24 SuperHind Mk. III, of which 33 remain fully operational. This advanced gunship has been upgraded by Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE) of Midrand, South Africa, replacing all outdated avionics systems, and reducing the overall weight by nearly two tons! A Zeiss Argos 410-Z FLIR turret was installed for night targeting, as well as a French, GIAT/Nexter M693 (Vektor F2) 20x139mm, turreted cannon with 320 rounds of ammunition in the nose, and eight South African ZT-3B Ingwe(“Leopard”) anti-tank missiles replaced older, Russian models.
These entered service in 2001, and soon Azerbaijan received 10 Mi-24G SuperHind Mk. IVs, armed with Ukrainian Baryer-V (“Barrier”) R-2 missiles. Unfortunately, the jealous, Russian government interfered with the ATE project, essentially putting it out of business. However, the SuperHind is certainly the best and most-advanced of the fearsome, Mi-24 series.
The very latest variants of the combat-veteran, Hind gunship include the Mi-24VM (“M” for “Modernized”) Hind-E Modified with shorter, lighter wings (with only four weapon stations) to reduce weight and drag, 9M120 Ataka (“Attack,” or AT-9 Spiral-2) anti-tank missiles, 9K38 Igla (“Needle,” or SA-18 Grouse) air-to-air missiles, and the GSh-23L turreted cannon of the earlier Mi-24VP. There’s also a similar, Mi-24PM Hind-F version with 30mm side cannon
The Mi-24PN (“N” for “Night-capable”) Hind-F is an upgraded Mi-24P or PM, the very latest in the original, Mi-24 series, with the smaller wings, fixed landing gear instead of retractable (to save weight), the hard-recoiling, 30mm cannon, and FLIR and low-light TV sensors for night operations. Then, there’s an Mi-24P-1M version, just introduced in 2019, with new sensors, autopilot, navigation system, and an active, electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar.
The very latest evolution of the menacing, Hind series, however, is the Mi-35M Hind-E Modernized, originally intended as an export, night-attack version of the Mi-24VM, entering service in 2010. While it was, in fact, exported to Azerbaijan, Brazil, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Mali, Nigeria, and Venezuela, the Russian Air Force also operates at least 60 of them, designated the Mi-35M1, just to have its advanced capabilities.
The Mi-35M1 features upgraded, TV3-117VMA turboshaft engines, the fiberglas, main rotor and X-shaped, tail rotor (for reduced noise) assemblies from the more-advanced, Mi-28N Havoc-B helicopter gunship, fixed landing gear and shorter, stub wings to reduce weight and complexity, a water-cooled, GSh-23V turreted cannon, all-new GOES-342 FLIR and TV sensors for night attack, OPS-24N sighting system with laser rangefinder, GLONASS/GPS navigation system, onboard computer, L370 Vitebsk electronic countermeasures system, and other advanced avionics. Additional weapons include 9M127-1 Ataka-VM (AT-9 Spiral-2) missiles, 80mm rockets, 9K38 Igla-1V (SA-18 Grouse) missiles, and other weapons.
So, while the Mil Mi-28NHavoc-B, with 97 in service, and the Kamov Ka-52 Hokum-B/Alligator, with 101 in service, helicopter gunships were specifically designed as Russian counterparts to the venerable, American AH-64D/E Apache, the proven, Mi-24 Hind, or “Satan’s Chariot,” still the world’s only troop-carrying, “air-assault” gunship, survives as the mainstay of the Russian Air Force’s attack-helicopter capability, with 330 examples still fully operational, and is likely to remain so for many years yet to come.
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.webs.com.