AH-64 Apache Longbow versus Mi-28 Night Hunter or Havoc
(Written by Gagandeep Singh)
There is a hot debate going on since last few years between two of the leading attack helicopters of this generation as to which one is better – Apache or Havoc, more so since both their parent countries aggressively took up cudgels to upgrade them in the last decade or so in an attempt aimed not only at one-upmanship but grabbing the greater pie in the export markets too.
Apache is an American attack helicopter whereas Havoc (NATO reporting name) is of Russian origins. Both come with a few variants, so for convenience of comparison their latest models have been taken into consideration i.e. AH-64E and MI-28NM.
|Feature||AH-64E Apache||Mi-28NM Havoc|
|1.Length||15 m||17 m|
|2.Width||14.6 m||17.2 m|
|4.Tentative Empty Weight||5352 kg||8600 kg|
|5. Service Ceiling||6500 m||5500 m|
|6. Highest Speed||365 km/h||340km/h ( Claimed to have been increased by further 10%)|
|7. Hard Points||4 under-wing and 2 wing stub endpoints||4 under-wing|
|8. Ammunition|| a) 16x AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missile|
4x Hydra-70 rocket pods
b) 2x AIM-92 Stinger Air to Air Missiles
4x Auxiliary Fuel Tanks
c) 4x AIM-9 Sidewinder Air to Air Missiles
4x Sidearm anti-radiation missiles
| a) 16x AT-6 Spiral anti-armour missiles|
2x rocket pods – each rocket pod containing 20 S-8 rockets or 5 s-13 rockets
b) 2 gun-pods + rockets or anti-tank missiles as required.
|9. Cannon||30 mm M230 Chain gun with 1200 rounds||30mm Shipunov 2A42 cannon with 250 rounds|
Upgrades on AH-64E Apache:
- Apache has been given more powerful T 700-GE-701D engines with upgraded face gear transmission to accommodate more power.
- In America Apache has been enabled for Joint Tactical Information Distribution System. JTIDS is an L Band Distributed Time Division Multiple Access (DTDMA) network radio system that supports data communication needs for air and missile defence purposes. It spreads radiated power at a wider range of frequencies that reduces susceptibility to noise, jamming and interception
- Apache Longbow has acquired the ability to control Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
- The attack helicopter has been given full IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) capability.
- Landing gear has been improved.
- New composite rotor blades have increased the climb rate, cruise speed and payload capacity.
Production of 56 new build AH-64Es to start is to start in 2019-20. Changes in production lots 4 through 6 shall include many upgrades.
- A cognitive decision aiding system and new self-diagnostic abilities.
- An upgrade of existing Longbow fire control radar AN/APG-78 has an oversea capacity, potentially enabling Naval strikes. Even an AESA radar is under consideration. Already the radar can track 128 targets and engage 16. So you can well imagine the scope of future upgrades.
- The army has expressed a desire to add extended-range fuel tanks to the AH-64E to further increase range and endurance.
- AH-64E are to have the L-3 communications MUM-TX datalink installed in place of two previous counterparts, communicating on C, D, L and Ku frequency bands to transmit and receive data and video with all army UAVs. Lots 5 and 6 will be equipped with Link 16 data-links.
Upgrades on Mi-28NM Night Hunter:
- New powerful Russian Engine VK-2500U-01/PS has been integrated instead of previous engine of Ukraine make.
- New 360 degree radar nadterechnaya H0253 has been incorporated which ensures faster target acquisition and its downloading to the helicopter’s fire control system. It will also see and detect more targets.
- As per Alexander Mikheev, chief-executive of design and manufacturing Russian Helicopters, a subsidiary of Rostec State Corporation, new rotor blades will add 10 percent to the helicopter’s maximum speed of 340km/h.
- According to Russian Helicopters’ online magazine, Cockpit has been upgraded “so that the commander and the operating pilot can receive more information about the environment and all helicopter systems in a more accessible format, which will increase the crew’s situational awareness, facilitate interaction and increase the speed of decision-making in complex combat situations.” Dual control has been ensured so that in an emergency, Night Hunter can even be piloted by the gunner and taken to safety.
- Havoc has been equipped with a unique laser system designed to deflect all existing heat-seeking missiles.
- Design of 30mm cannon, the container for ammunition and optical location system have been upgraded so that it can achieve guidance and retention goals even when the helicopter is maneuvering.
- Chief designere Valerie Kasheen of Mechanical Engineering Design Bureau claimed in late 2016 that Ataka missiles have been modernized with a range of 8 km from 6 and their lock on and destructive power have also been augmented. Night Hunter is now better suited for high-precision ordnance.
- Electronic brain of the Havoc with regards to performance of the onboard computers and active software has made it possible for the copter to land not just in automatic mode but even blindly.
- Russian officials claim that though the layout of the helicopter is same, materials and even some aesthetics like tip of the nose have been improved. Other than key systems like avionics, detection and guidance, attention has been given even to the noise immunity of the communication.
- Helmet mounted target designation and display system has been added.
According to western experts, a number of technical flaws of Mi-28NM have come to the fore. As per Dylan Malyasov, a defence blogger the “New Russian helicopters have problems with engine installations, avionics, control and navigation systems. Earlier there were cases of an engine control problem and it was reported that debris ejected on the launching of rockets could cause catastrophic damage.”
According to head of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee for Defence and Security, Victor Bondarev, Russian defence industry has fixed a number of technical and design flaws of the helicopter but still have problems with onboard electronics and night vision systems.
“Electronics is a failure: the pilot does not see anything, hears nothing,” said Victor Bondarev.
The night vision goggles on the Night Hunters got the pilots a nickname ‘death to pilots’. As opposed to official position that it was pilot’s error, according to Russian military the crash of Mi-28NM on April 12, 2016 in Syria was due to problems with the night-vision.
Just few days back in March, 2018 itself Russia has made available two upgraded Night Hunters to its forces. The most recent country to choose between Mi-28 Night Hunter and AH-64 Apache is India which after ordering 22 Longbows in 2012 has further ordered six more in 2017. Indian officials refuse to accept inferiority of Russian helicopters. As per them, flight performance, combat survivability and operation convenience of Havoc might be better though they concede that when it comes to accuracy of fire and weapons delivery, Longbow is superior. On condition of anonymity, the officials also say that Russian ammunition is smaller.
Both USA and Russia will ply these upgraded helicopters for ten more years. USA is already working on Future Vertical Lift (FVL) aircrafts which are slated to replace Apache in 2030. One is tempted to say that given US’s economic heft as weapons and aircrafts get more complicated, it will increasingly become more challenging for Russia to match US shoulder to shoulder in development of high-tech weapons and delivery vehicles.