Russia’s Ka-52 Alligator Scout-Attack Helicopters
September 1/15: The Ka-52 helicopter export contract mentioned back in June at the Paris Air Show appears to involve Egypt’s acquisition of 50 of the attack helicopters.
When Russia committed to a multi-year buy of Mi-28 attack helicopters in 2006, it appeared that the Mil design bureau’s Mi-28 (NATO code: Havoc) had eclipsed Kamov’s more radical Ka-50 (NATO code: Hokum) as Russia’s future attack helicopter. A critical loss in Turkey’s attack helicopter competition, and conflicting promises concerning the Kamov machine’s future in Russia, left the platform’s very future in doubt. Russia’s 2005 defense budget, for instance, was supposed to include 12 Ka-50 helicopters – until that funding was cut.
Fortunately for the VVS, growing Russian natural resource revenues, and the accompanying growth in Russian defense budgets, are creating new options. So, too, is a major investment in modernizing its manufacturers, which has put the Ka-52 into production.
The Ka-52 Alligator
By 2009, just a handful of coaxial, single-seat Ka-50’s had been delivered to the Army Aviation Training and Conversion Unit at Torzhok. Some even saw action in Chechnya, where their high cruising speed (300 km/h), protection, and ability to carry either armaments or fuel tanks gained them respect as scout/ attack/ command helicopters.
Many countries would consider that an odd combination, but it works quite well with Russian doctrines that emphasize durable combat punch for scouts, and central on-site direction of all combat aviation.
The Ka-52 “Alligator” is a 2-seat version of the Ka-50, using a side by side layout common to transport helicopters instead of the front-and-rear layout common in attack helicopters. This changes the helicopter’s aerodynamics somewhat, reducing maximum speed from 310 km/h to 300 km/h (192 – 186 mph), and increasing fuel consumption slightly. On the other hand, this change is expected to make it easier for the helicopter crew to perform battlefield observation and coordination roles. The extra crewman in the Ka-52 forced some reductions in fuel, armoring, and gun ammunition; it carries 240 rounds for its fuselage-mounted 2A42 30mm cannon, instead of 470 in the Ka-50.
Even so, the Alligator’s main rival isn’t the Ka-50, it’s the more conventional Mi-28N attack helicopter that Russia is also buying. Based on published materials, photos, and several Russian sources, we’ve compiled a side-by-side comparison that also includes Boeing’s current AH-64D Apache Longbow as a reference point, and normalizes measurements to the same units:
Note that the Ka-52’s operational sensor fit is somewhat unclear, and a range of options have been tried that are not always present in photos. A nose turret can hold a laser range-finder and infrared sights, a small ball under the fuselage can hold optical sights, a FLIR system can supposedly be integrated with Zenit’s Shkval electro-optical sighting system in a ball mounted on top of the fuselage aft of the canopy, and mast-mounted sights have been reported. What is certain is that an effective modern scout helicopter requires a combination of zoom and infrared/FLIR cameras, and lasers capable of rangefinding or target designation. The most advanced helicopters add millimeter-wave radars, creating additional options in uncooperative weather, improving their awareness of what’s going on in the airspace around them, and providing targeting options for some missiles. A 2013 deal with French optronics leader Sagem (q.v. Aug 28/13 entry, below) may begin to add more clarity on this front.
The Ka-52K is a naval variant that will operate from Russia’s Vladivostok Class amphibious/air assault LHD ships. It adds folding rotors and folding stub wings, but not the folding tail found in some naval helicopters. A maritime radar in the nose has been mentioned, possibly a “mirror” radar that combines 2 bands for surface scanning and long-range search. So has the ability to carry Kh-35 medium-range anti-ship missiles, or even supersonic Kh-31s. Improved corrosion resistance is also a standard feature for naval helicopter variants, and the question is how far the Russians will go.
A Turkish-specific, NATO-compatible variant of the Ka-52 called the Erdogan was developed in cooperation with Israel’s IAI to compete in Turkey’s attack helicopter competition, but lost to Italy’s AW129T Mongoose.
Contracts and Key Events
Export Contract Paris Air Show
September 1/15: The Ka-52 helicopter export contract mentioned back in June at the Paris Air Show appears to involve Egypt’s acquisition of 50 of the attack helicopters.
2013 – 2014
Production and delivery; French optronics coming.
Aug 5/14: +32. IHS Jane’s reports that Russia has ordered its 32 Ka-52K helicopters for use with its Vladivostok Class LHDs. The order isn’t a surprise (q.v. Oct 9/13, June 24/14), it was just a question of when the contract would be placed:
“Speaking to IHS Jane’s, a Russian defence industry source stated that the order included 32 Ka-52K helicopters. These will be built by Progress Aresenyev Aviation Company ‘Nikolai Sazykin’, a subsidiary of Russian Helicopters.”
Sources: IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “Russia orders Ka-52K helicopters for Mistral-class LHDs”.
Aug 4-5/14: Rostec subsidiary Russian Helicopters showcases its new military helicopter models at the Defence Ministry’s Innovation Day exhibition in the suburbs of Moscow. Displayed helicopters include the Ka-52K naval scout/attack helicopter, Mi-8AMTSh-VA armed transport helicopter optimized for polar regions, the upgraded Mi-26T2 super heavy-lift helicopter, and the Mi-38 successor to existing Mi-8/Mi-17 models. Sources: Russian Helicopters JSC, “Russian Helicopters presents new military helicopters at the Defence Ministry’s Innovation Day exhibition”.
June 24/14: During an inspection tour at Progress aircraft manufacturing company in Arsenyevsk, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov offers a production update:
“The plant is in a stable position and has a long-term contract on the delivery of 146 Ka-52 Alligator helicopters for the period up to 2020. Further plans include [the sale of] 32 ship-based helicopters…. Navy is expecting Ka-52 helicopters, which will be placed on board the Mistral-type ships currently under construction…. We paid great attention to import replacement issues, including as far as components received from Ukraine as concerned. These issues are not critical. They can be resolved quite painlessly.”
That last bit is especially important after Russia cut off its Ukranian supply chain by invading and annexing Crimea, then militarily supporting guerrilla movements that are trying to annex Eastern Ukraine as well. Sources: Voice of Russia, “Russian Defense Ministry plans to buy 32 Ka-52K helicopters for Mistral ships.
Dec 25/13: 2013 production. During a visit to Russian Helicopters’ Progress Arsenyev Aviation Company production plant, Lt. Gen. Victor Bondarev thanks them for producing 14 Ka-52s on schedule in 2013, as part of overall Russian deliveries of over 100 helicopters. Sources: Interfax/AVN, “Russian Air Force took delivery of over 100 new rotorcraft in 2013″.
Oct 9/13: Ka-52K. RIA Novosti quotes “a Deputy Defense Minister” as saying that Russia plans to order 32 Ka-52Ks, conditional on successful final helicopter testing in 2014.
That could become a tight schedule, since the Russian Navy is expected to take delivery of its 1st LHD in November 2015, and the Ka-52 will need some flying and testing time before it’s ready for service. Even if Russian Helicopters’ Progress Arsenyev division delivers 6 helicopters just a year after the order, the Vladivostok wouldn’t have anything like an operational Ka-52K wing for many months after delivery at least. It would appear that the new ship design and its key helicopters will be conducting their break-in period together, which has a way of making everything more difficult. Sources: RIA Novosti, “Russian Defense Ministry to Order 32 Shipborne Helicopters in 2014 – Official”.
Aug 28/13: Partnership. At MAKS 2013, Kamov and France’s Sagem Defense announce a partnership to add Sagem’s optronics and [the Franco-Russian] LINS 100 inertial navigation systems to the Ka-52, “which will address a requirement expressed by several countries… [the partners] plan to start integration of a new optronic system in early 2014.” The release specifically mentions leveraging Sagem’s experience as the supplier of the roof-mounted Strix surveillance and targeting turret on Airbus Helicopter’s EC655 Tiger HAP/ARH/HAD scout and attack helicopters.
So much for the direct information. What this release says indirectly, is that the Ka-52’s surveillance and targeting systems have been a hindrance to international sales, and need improvement. Otherwise, the outstanding requirement(s) would be addressed already. Sources: Sagem re: Strix | Sagem DS Aug 28/13 release.
Feb 22/13: RIA Novosti reports that the Southern Military District has received its 1st batch of Ka-52s, and is scheduled to start operations in March. RIA.ru [in Russian].
2011 – 2012
Full-rate production contract; Navalized Ka-52K confirmed; Crash.
Aug 9/12: Ka-52K changes. Oboronprom confirms that Russia will build the navalized Ka-52K Alligator helicopter for its new Vladivostok Class amphibious ships, which also prompts speculation about the design changes involved. Past displays have shown folding rotor blades, folding wings, and the standard anti-corrosion treatments.
Navy Recognition says that the Ka-52K will also include a modified version of the MiG-35 fighter’s Zhuk-A AESA radar in the nose section, and will be able to carry Kh-31 Krypton or Kh-35 Kayak anti-ship missiles. Those missiles weigh in at over 600 kg/ 1,300 pounds each, however, which could make them challenging weapons for the helicopter to carry. It’s within the limits, but testing will tell. The level of Russian interest of these missiles was regarded as unconfirmed by the people we talked to.
Subsequent research indicates that the AESA radar was a contractor offer from Phazotron, not a military requirement. It would be useful, but it would also be expensive. The importance of Russia’s Vladivostok Class ships may justify that, but word is that Phazotron has a cheaper back-up upgrade offer: a more conventional dual-band phased array radar, with frequencies optimized for closer ground scans and long-range surface (naval) scans. Sources: Navy Recognition, “Special version of Ka-52K Helicopter with advanced radar and antiship missiles for Russian Mistral” | Voice of Russia, Russia to build helicopters for Mistral carriers” | DID interviews and discussions.
June 2012: Take-off magazine covers the Ka-52, and offers some production and deployment information:
“In May 2011, the delivery started to Chernigovka air base in the Russian Far East, where the Russian Air Force had activated its first full-ledged 12-ship Ka-52 air squadron by the end of the year. In 2012, Chernigovka air base took delivery at least five more Ka-52s. In addition, five new Ka-52s built by Progress by late 2011 were fielded with CTCC in Torzhok early in 2012.
Overall, over 20 production-standard Ka-52s were manufactured in the town of Arsenyev during 2012. 16 of them were fielded earlier this year with a second RusAF airbase, the one in Korenovsk, Krasnodar Territory. Their final assembly and check flights prior to the delivery to the air base had been handled by Rostvertol JSC, to which premises they had been brought in semi-assembled from Aresenyev-based manufacturing plant by RusAF airlifters.”
March 14/12: A Lenta report implies that the September 2011 contract reports may have referred to a multi-year contract aimed specifically at Ka-52 helicopters. From the Rus Navy translation:
“In 2011, Russian defense ministry tied a number of long-term aircraft procurement contracts; under one of them, the ministry purchased 140 attack helicopters Ka-52 Alligator, director of Oboronprom corporation Andrei Reus told Kommersant. Reus did not specify details of the contract only saying that “conditions were acceptable”.”
March 13/12: A Ka-52 crash, during a training exercise in the Tver region NW of Moscow, kills both pilots. It seems that the type’s unique ejection seats either didn’t save them, or weren’t triggered. While this is the 1st Ka-52 crash, there had been 2 crashes of the related Ka-50. Pravda | RTT News.
Sept 7/11: RIA Novosti offers a video tour of the Ka-52 factory, and says:
“In the next ten years, Russia’s Air Force will adopt 140 Ka-52 helicopters, a model better known as the Alligator. Dmitry Petrov, general director of the holding company Russian Helicopters, commented on a major contract that the aircraft manufacturer signed with the Ministry of Defense. Petrov spoke during a guided tour of Progress, the helicopter factory at Arsenyev, Primorye Territory, where the Alligators are assembled.”
While the report implies that the recent contract is entirely focused on Ka-52s, it should be taken with some caution. Russian Helicopters produces a wide variety of types. It is possible that the attribution could be a reporter error, or even a translation issue.
Sept 3/11: While discussing a $4+ billion Russian contract with state-controlled Oboronprom for 140 military helicopters by 2020 (no type breakdown), General Director Andrey Reus confirms that the 1st navalized Ka-52K Alligator attack/scout helicopter shipment for use on Russia’s new Mistral LHDs will finish by the end of 2012. RIA Novosti | Voice of Russia.
Feb 9/11: Itar-Tass reports that Russia will use 2 of the pending Mistral amphibious landing ships in the Pacific Fleet, including protecting the South Kurile Islands, which are disputed territory with Japan. As for the ships’ complement and design, Helicopters of Russia Holding Company Deputy Director-General Andrei Shibitov says that:
“Ship versions of the Ka-27K, Ka-29K and Ka-52K helicopters will be used. Their number on each ship will be determined by the Defence Ministry.”
Another Russian official states that using those coaxial rotor helicopters will require a slight elevation of the ship’s deck, to ensure enough clearance height in the hangars.
Jan 2/11: Buy in. Russian Defense Ministry official spokesman Col. Vladimir Drik says that they plan to start buying Ka-52 Alligator helicopters for the VVS (Air Force) in 2011. RIA Novosti.
2008 – 2010
Dec 7/09: Industrial. Russian Helicopters JSC, which includes the Kamov, Mil, and Kazan design bureaus, announces a combined public and private investment of RUB 6 billion (about $200 million) to modernize manufacturing at the Arsenyev Aviation Company Progress plant, which makes the Ka-52. The “full scale technical overhaul” will take place from 2009-2015, and will improve production of the Ka-50 Black Shark and Ka-52 Alligator scout/attack helicopters, the new Ka-60/62 medium helicopter, and the new Mi-34C2 Peregrine light helicopter.
The first stage will overhaul foundry operations at Progress, beginning with a foundry production competence centre that is expected to open in early 2010. It will be followed by reconstruction and re-equipment of the composite and mechanical engineering sections with advanced control machinery that will reduce required space and personnel, an energy efficiency program, a “machine-working competence centre,” and the “introduction of modern digital and information technologies”. When discussing Phase 2 benefits, the firm points to the September 2008 introduction of the TruLaser 3530 laser cutting machine, which led to a saving of RUB 14.7 million (around $500,000) over 12 months with an 8-fold drop in labor intensity. The total economic impact of introducing new production machinery is expected to be as high as RUB 160 million ($5.3 million) initially, alongside RUB 40 million ($1.3 million) from installing cold solidifying mixture lines and low-pressure casting machines.
More investments may follow. These investments are being made pursuant to a wider Russian federal program titled “The development of the defense industrial complex of the Russian Federation in the years 2011-2020,” and Russian Helicopters COO Andrei Shibitov says that up to 70% of the Russian helicopter industry’s equipment is worn out.
Nov 27/09: During the FS Mistral’s visit to St. Petersburg, Russia, the amphibious assault ship holds a “cross deck” exercise with Russian Navy helicopters. They include landings by a Ka-29 utility helicopter with a French officer on board, as well as landings using a Ka-27 Helix anti submarine warfare helicopter and the first deck landing for the Ka-52 scout/attack helicopter, which also simulates a refueling on the flight deck. French Navy [in French] | DID: “Russia to Order French Mistral LHDs?.”
FS Mistral landings
Dec 26/08: RIA Novosti reports that the Russian government has approved the production of Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters. They will be built at the Arsenyevsk plant, in the country’s Far East. Deliveries of the first 12 Ka-52s to the Russian Air Force will reportedly begin in 2009.
Nov 9/08: Various media reports now quote Russian Air Force chief Colonel-General Alexander Zelin, who says they will place a 2009 order for 12 Ka-52 “Alligator” helicopters, subject to successful completion of mandated testing. Col.-Gen. Zelin stresses that this is not a substitute for the Mi-28s, which are expected to begin arriving in 2009.
Meanwhile, Kamov indicates that they have been given the go-ahead for “full production,” and hope to complete 30 helicopters for Russia by 2012 while pursuing export orders. Avio News | Frontier India | RIA Novosti
Nov 10/08: Moscow News’ “Russian choppers on top” reports that the industry is being restructured, much as Russia has centralized the fixed-wing aircraft industry into the state-owned United Aircraft Corp.:
“But the industry has its specifics, Mikhail Kazachkov from the Helicopter Industry Association told RIA Novosti in an interview. Its bane is the lengthy production time: an idea to finished product takes, on average, 12 years. The authorities have decided to restructure the helicopter industry, to optimize its cash flows and make it more competitive. For that purpose they brought its separate branches under one umbrella, called Helicopters of Russia.”
- Russian Helicopters JSC – Ka-52
- Army Technology – Ka-50 Black Shark Attack Helicopter, Russia
- Aviastar All the World’s Rotorcraft – Kamov Ka-52 “Alligator”
- RIA Novosti (Infographic) – The Kamov Ka-52 Alligator/ Hokum-B
- RIA Novosti – Ka-52 image gallery
- Take-off (June 2012) – Russian Army Aviation Ka-52 Fleet Growing
- Take-off, via AviaPort.RU (May 2012) – General Designer of the “Corporation” Fazotron-NIIR “Yuri Andrei – a helicopter category Enterprise. Discusses Ka-52 radar options in the course of the interview.
- RIA Novosti, via WayBack (Sept 7/11 video) – How the Ka-52 Alligator is made: A guided tour of the helicopter factory
- Russia Today, via WayBack (Oct 31/08) – Alligators to take the sky by storm
- DID (July 23/12) – Reap the Whirlwind: Russia Buys Anti-Tank Missiles & Bails Out Kalashnikov. Most of these Vikhr missiles will be used on Ka-52s.
- DID – Thales’ Key Role in Russia’s Defense Industry. Includes cockpit components and forward looking infrared systems for the Ka-52.
- DID – Russia’s Military Spending Jumping – But Can Its Industry? The Arsenyev plant isn’t the only one with challenges.