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Mi-24: the next big upgrade market? In service with more than 50 countries worldwide, the upgrade market for the Mi-24 helicopter could become a fierce battleground for industry.

As this issue was going to press, it was learned that BAE Systems had purchased a Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter and upgraded some of its avionics to NATO standard. While one often hears of militaries acquiring such platforms, it is not often that a private company does so.

One of the most widely employed helicopters in the world, the Mi-24 Hind is used in more than 50 countries (including the US) on five continents, though many users operate relatively small numbers of them. Those countries, as well as most major Mi-24 users, are unable to purchase new, sophisticated, and very costly combat helicopters. Thus, the Mi-24 presents a potentially large market for modernization.

The Mi-24 was first flown on September 19, 1969, and was fielded in 1971 with the Soviet Air Force. A total of 3,250 Mi-24s were produced, with about half of these exported, and today more than 1,550 combat versions remain in service, along with about 300 specialized variants. The main types used by the Russian Air Force and international users are the Mi-24D, Mi-24V, and Mi-24P. The Mi-24D was the third combat version (after the Mi-24 and Mi-24A, which were never officially accepted into service) and is the oldest that still remains in service outside Russia.

These three versions of the Mi-24 combat helicopter could operate only during the day and in fair weather conditions. For years, the Soviet Union believed that enemy forces would be similarly constrained, so no attempts to develop a nighttime/poor-weather capability were made until the mid-1980s, when plans called for the supplementation (but not total replacement) of the Mi-24 with a new combat helicopter, either the Mi-28 Havoc or Ka-50 Hokum.

Nowadays, support of special-forces operations, combat search and rescue, armed reconnaissance, escorting cargo helicopters or ground-vehicle convoys, and precision engagement of selected targets (mostly located in "sensitive" areas) are the primary tasks for helicopters. Surprisingly, the Mi-24 is better suited for such tasks than most of the West's dedicated anti-tank warriors, thus providing the Mi-24 a "second youth." The Mi-24's large radar cross-section and infrared (IR) signature are not as important in low intensity conflict scenarios where its strong structure can withstand many small-arms hits and, in some situations, even survive a single strike from a man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS). However, the Mi-24's original defensive suite gave aircrews the minimum safety level. It consisted of the SPO-15 (Mi-24D; only much later versions carried the-15, while earlier versions had the -10) or SPO-15M (Mi-24V, Mi-24P) radar-warning receiver, four (six on later variants) ASO-2V chaff/flare dispensers, and the L-166V-I Ispanka active IR jammer.

The current battlefield particularly demands protecting helicopters from MANPADS. Modern types of such weapons, like the Stinger or Igla, have effective dual-mode seekers, making the ASO-2V totally ineffective and the Ispanka only partially effective. More modern, powerful chaff is essential, and new dispensers have to be installed. It would also be worthwhile to replace the Ispanka with a more effective jammer. Moreover, as MANPADS-equipped troops ares not always observed by the crew, especial]y at night, a missile-warning system would also provide a much meeded boost in self-protection capabilities. Also, the SPO-15, with its fixed library of Cold War-era threats, though technically advanced, is inadequate today. The ideal would be to replace the SPO-15 with a modern EW system, with a programmable threat library, to deal with threats in various conflict areas. Finally, to make the whole suite more effective, integration is critical.

In addition to the desire to upgrade the survivability of their helicopters, some Mi-24 users are presently NATO members, and others aim to be. NATO standardization has its own demands. First of all, such standardization requires a NATO-compatible IFF system, as well as an adequate communications suite.

The first Mi-24 modernization program was undertaken in Russia in 1994, when the Mi-24VM project was unveiled. For financial reasons, it was divided into blocks. Block 1 was mainly concerned with replacing the obsolete heavy machine gun with the GSh-23L gun, the resulting helicopter receiving the designation Mi-24VP (P for pushka, or cannon). Twenty-five Mi-24VP helicopters had already been produced in 1989 at Rostov and were designated the same as the proposed modernized variant. Since the modernization was offered for export it was designated Mi-35VP (gun change only) or Mi-35M. Block 1 covered structural reinforcement, service-life extension, and installation of the Gsh-23L gun in the nose turret. Block 2 included a single color display in each cockpit for a moving map or target picture and a NVG-compatible cockpit (although with no NVGs integrated at this stage). It could carry up to 16 Shturm-V anti-tank missiles and up to four 9M36 Strela-3 air-to-air missiles on two weapons pylons, leaving the remaining two for other weapons. The version resulting from the Block 2 modernization was called the Mi-24VMH or Mi-35M-1 for export. Block 3 covered installation of a lightweight data-exchange modem and a modern R-999 UHF/VHF radio. The Gsh-23L short-burst cannon was replaced with the water-cooled GSh-23V, as well as the 9M39 Igla missile instead of the 9M36. The helicopters after Block 3 modernization were called Mi-24VM-2 or Mi-35M-2 for export. Block 4 modernization covered installation of the new PRNK-24 fire-control system, which consisted of the CVM digital Computer the Zenit Tor-24 day/night LLL TV system in place of the Raduga TV system, and some other minor elements. Shturm-V anti-tank missiles were replaced by 9M120 Ataka missiles. The self-protection suite was integrated by a Pastel digital processor, enabling the automated use of the system. The SPQ-15M Beroza was to be retained, as well as the ASO-2V, but the Ispanka was eliminated. The new suite also included mounting of the Mak-UFM missile warner and the Otldik laser warner. After this modernization, the helicopter was designated Mi-24VM-3 or Mi-35M-3 for export.

Block 5 modernization differed for export and for domestic purposes. It included further enhancements of avionics systems by replacing the cockpit displays with active-matrix ones. Additionally, a FLIR/laser turret was mounted on the side of the helicopter--the Thales Chlio for export or the UOMZ GOES-342 with the Sony EVI331 TV and the Agema THVI000 FLIR, as well as a laser, for domestic purposes. INS/GPS navigation and NVGs rounded out Block 5

Five prototypes were built for tests of various modernization elements (though no complete, ultimate prototype has been built), with three flown for the first time between March and late 1999 and two flown in 2000. The last two, with unusual equipment combinations, were designated Mi-24VK-1 and Mi-24VK-2, but in export were to be called Mi-35MO. The modernizations were not accepted by the Russian Air Force but are still offered for export. Various elements of the modernization were part of three Mi-24Vs delivered to Uganda this year, with the modernization itself done in Belarus.

The successful modernized variant for Russian military forces is the Mi-24PN. It has less sophisticated avionics but includes the existing Raduga-Sh TV station with a Zarevo FLIR mounted centrally under the nose and an INS/GPS system. The weapons did hot change (except for adding up to four Igla missiles), but planned future packages include a Raduga-ShM station for Ataka missiles. The self-protection suite included a modernized IR jammer--the Lipa, derived from the standard Ispanka. Two prototypes of the Mi-24PN were flown in late 2002, and serious modernization started in July 2003. It is expected that about 40 of the helicopters will be modernized annually.

A variant of the Mi-24PN modernization--adding the GOES-342 and Ataka capability, as well as Western communications, navigation, IFF, and self-protection systems--is being considered by the Czech Republic. It was to be conducted by local facilities and 24 helicopters were to be modified. Among them are 18 Mi-24Vs (including seven recently delivered, already refurbished Mi-24V) and six older Mi-24Ds. After withdrawal from the planned common modernization by the Visegrad nations in June 2003, the Czech Republic is running the biggest modernization program in Europe, though its continuation remains uncertain in lieu of recent serious defense-budget cuts.

The last confirmed modernization made by Russia was a batch of four Mi-35Ms that were delivered to Zimbabwe. It is probably similar to the Belarussian modernization of Ugandan Mi-35Ms, with some navigation improvements (GPS), as well as an IRTV-445MGII Loris surveillance and targeting turret and a NVG-compatible cockpit with Russian-produced NVGs.

Russia is not the only country in which a Mi-24 upgrade has been developed, though. Details of a BAE Systems proposal are known from the company's offer to modernize Polish Mi-24Vs. Initially, Poland wanted to modernize 40 helicopters, but this was recently reduced to only 14. The modernization is to be done in Poland at the WZL-1 aircraft repair plant in Lodz, with the integrator not chosen yet, but with BAE Systems as the most probable. The helicopters will receive an integrated tactical system, including navigation with embedded INS/GPS, a digital map display, glass cockpit with two color displays in each cockpit, helmet-mounted displays and cueing systems, and a new mission computer. The surveillance and targeting process will be supported by the Titan 385 EO/IR turret with a dual-band FLIR. The turret also has an LLL CCD TV camera and a laser rangefinder. A navigation FLIR is also mounted in the same turret. The ECM suite offered by BAE Systems is based on the Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aids Suite (HIDAS), developed originally for the UK's WAH-64D Apaches. It uses a separate, dedicated databus, integrated ESM with a RWR, missile and laser warners (both optional), and either ALE-40 or ALE-47 chaff/flare dispensers. It will also include the Ispanka jammer, controlled by the HIDAS. The weapon system includes the new 20mm three-barrel Otobreda M197 gun in the nose turret, as well as anti-tank missiles (ATMs) of the user's choice. (Poland chose the Rafael Spike ER missile.) The package also includes NATO-compatible radios and IFF transponders.

Slovakia, which has remained in the joint program with Poland, intends to modernize 10 Slovak Mi-24Vs similarly. However, Slovakia plans to retain the Shturm ATM but is considering replacing them with Ataka ATMs. Hungary theoretically remains in the program as well but intends to conduct only minimal upgrades to enable the helicopters to operate in NATO-controlled airspace. One helicopter has already been upgraded thusly. Bulgaria is also considering the BAE Systems upgrade, though with closer cooperation with Russia Bulgaria intends to modernize five Mi-24Vs, plus seven to 13 Mi-24Ds, more or less to the Slovakian standard. Croatia is the next potential candidate for Mi-24 modernization, and Croatia's obvious preference is to join the Polish-Slovakian program.

But Europe isn't the only place where the Mi-24 has been or is being upgraded Yet another modernization was launched in South Africa in 1996, directed at export customers, since South African forces do not operate the Mi-24. It is conducted by Advanced Technology & Engineering (ATE) and is based on a proposal for an armed version of the Polish V-3K Huzar helicopter. It includes an upgraded navigation system with INS/GPS, plus a digital map display, glass cockpit, and new fire-control system. The last is mounted in a Lengthened nose in the form of the Kentron Argos EO turret. It consists of a dual-mode FLIR and long-range TV camera. The crew received the Archer helmet-mounted display and cueing system. Except for the gun, the original weapon system is either retained or replaced by South African munitions. The ATM is either the ZT35 Ingwe or ZT6 Mokopa. The self-protection suit includes the Avitronics Helicopter Self-Protection System (HSPS), which integrates a RWR, missile and laser warners, and chaff/flare dispensers. In 2000 Algeria decided to modernize 28 Mi-24Vs, the newest part of its large Mi-24 fleet, with a contract awarded to ATE two years later.

Not to be left out, Israeli firms have also developed Mi-24 upgrades, IAI Tamam developed its Mission 24 modernization package, which it has proposed for Poland, but the company's real success came from another part of the world. After building one prototype in 2000, India decided to modernize 25 of its Mi-24D and Mi-24V (used in India under the export nomenclature of Mi-25 and -35, respectively). The IAI package includes an integrated avionics suite, INS/GPS navigation, new displays, and a NVG-compatible cockpit. The system also integrates a helmet-mounted sight and cueing system, as well as an additional observation and targeting turret: the Helicopter Multi-Mission Optronic Stabilized Payload (HMOSP), which includes a dual-band FLIR, CCD LLL TV camera, and laser rangefinder/ illuminator. However, when the user wishes to retain Russian anti-tank missiles, as was the case with India, it is also necessary to retain the Raduga-Sh, since integrating it with the HMOSP would be too costly. The self-protection system consists of a RWR, laser and missile warners, the Ispanka IR jammer, and AN/ALE-40 chaff/flare dispensers.

Elbit, meanwhile, is proposing an almost identical upgrade package, except that it uses the Toplite optical turret and pieces of equipment provided by other contractors. The Toplite is comparable with the HMQPS in general capabilities. It consist of a FLIR, CCV TV camera, and laser rangefinder/illuminator, the latter of which, interestingly, can be used in two modes--one for Hellfire missiles and one for Paveway guided bombs.

For a listing of Mi-24 users around the world, showing just how large the upgrade market could be, go to
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Title Annotation:ec monitor
Comment:Mi-24: the next big upgrade market? In service with more than 50 countries worldwide, the upgrade market for the Mi-24 helicopter could become a fierce battleground for industry.(ec monitor)
Author:Fiszer, Michal; Gruszczynski, Jerzy
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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