Russia’s Ka-52 Alligator Scout-Attack HelicoptersMar 18, 2012 12:13 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
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. 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.
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. The Ka-52′s later development is expected to allow it to take advantage of Klimov’s uprated TV3-117VMA-SB3 turboshafts, however, which offer 1,863kW each instead of the earlier 1,633kW TV3-117VMA.
Operational sensor fit is somewhat unclear, with a range of options were tried that are not always present in photos. A nose turret can hold windows for a laser range-finder and infrared sights, a small ball under the fuselage can hold optical sights, a Thales (or optional Russian Khod) FLIR system can 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 and sharply improving their awareness of what’s going on in the airspace around them.
Armaments are mounted on 4 underwing and 2 wingtip hardpoints, and controlled by a helmet-mounted sight. Options include fuel tanks, jamming and self-defense pods, Igla-V (SA-18) air-air missiles, 9K121 Vikhr (AT-16) anti-armor missiles, and B8V-20 80mm rocket pods that can carry 20 rockets each.
One unusual feature of the Ka-50 and Ka-52 is ejection seats. Explosives in the rotor head blow off the rotor blades, in order to clear the seats’ exit path.
Contracts and Key Events
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. Navy Recognition | Voice of Russia.
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.
Dec 7/09: 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 millions (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?.”
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
- Kamov – Ka-50 | 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
- RIA Novosti (Sept 7/11) – How the Ka-52 Alligator is made: A guided tour of the helicopter factory (video)
- Russia Today (Oct 31/08) – Alligators to take the sky by storm
- 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.