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Ukraine Has Its Own Mi-24 ‘Flying Tank’ Helicopters to Fight Russia

Mi-24
Mi-24 Helicopter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

A video posted in mid-April shows the cockpit view of a Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter overflying southwestern Ukraine. Many assumed it was yet another Russian aircraft harrying Ukrainian forces.

But while Russian Mi-24 and similar Mi-35 Hinds have certainly been active in the war (with at least six confirmed lost) the new video suggests something quite different: Ukraine’s own fleet of these Soviet ‘flying tanks’ was still operational despite the seemingly overwhelming threat posed by Russia’s ground-based air defense missiles and jet fighters.

Indeed, while Kyiv is uncharacteristically tight-lipped about Hind operations, video recordings show Ukrainian Mi-24 actions in the Battle of Hostomel, and an audacious raid on Russian soil and elsewhere. 

This article looks at the Hind’s eventful history in Ukraine, the unique Ukrainian Mi-24PU-1 model, and what’s known about their activities repelling Putin’s 2022 invasion.

Hinds in Blue and Yellow

Though ‘Hind’ is the Mi-24’s NATO codename, the Soviet nickname ‘Crocodile” arguably better evokes the large and toothy-looking armored helicopter’s character. Unlike agile American Cobra and Apache attack helicopters, the larger and more unwieldy Hind was conceived by designer Mikhail Mil as a heavily armed tank-like troop transport that could fly

Thus, in addition to the Mi-24’s armament—built-in machine guns or automatic cannons depending on model, and six hardpoints on stub wings that can carry pods stuffed full of unguided rockets, anti-tank missiles, additional guns and even bombs—the Hind has a passenger compartment that can transport eight infantry for air assault operations. 

In the 1980s, Hinds and Hip transport helicopters carrying paratroopers spearheaded Russian air-mobile offensives against Mujaheddin fighters in Afghan mountains in the 1980s. However, this formidable pairing was famously blunted later by portable Stinger anti-air missiles smuggled in by the U.S.

According to Ukrainian defense expert Mikhail Zhirikov, at independence Ukraine inherited around 350 Mi-24s, mostly in Army Aviation. These numbers rapidly dwindled as an estimated 142 were exported, (mostly to African states) with most of the remainder put into storage.

The remaining operational Hinds were principally Mi-24P Hind-Fs (armed with two side-mounted 30-millimeter cannons),  Mi-24V Hind-Es with 12.7mm-machine guns in a chin turret, and Mi-24VPs with 23-millimeter chin cannons. Ukraine also retained several Mi-24Rs nuclear/chemical/biological helos formerly active in the Chornobyl emergency and seven Mi-24K photo recon/artillery spotters—but by the 2010s, these reportedly had been stripped of their distinctive equipment and refit with weapons.

For many years a detachment of 8-10 Ukrainians Mi-24s and Mi-8 transports in the 18th Independent Helicopter Detachment flew thousands of combat missions supporting UN peacekeepers in Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Though UN forces were too small to stabilize as huge a country as Congo DRC, the Ukrainian helicopters– at times supplemented by Indian Mi-35 Hinds—did arguably play an important role in helping nip violent militias in the bud that appeared poised to cause even greater loss of life. The Ukrainian detachment only withdrew in March 2022, a few weeks after Russia’s invasion.

When Russia seized the Crimean peninsula in 2014, Ukraine had only roughly 50 Hinds in the Lviv-based 7th Regiment, and the mixed-type 16th and 11th Aviation Brigade based in Brody and Kherson. These units were hastily deployed to bases in Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Mariupol as pro-Russian separatists attempted to overthrow local authorities across Eastern Ukraine.

These Hinds first saw combat on April 14 blasting an enemy sabotage group near Kramatorsk, then on April 24th escorted special forces in Mi-8 helicopters performing an air-landing operation that seized Artemovsk. Ukrainian helicopters were also active over the Luhansk Oblast, repelling an attack on border guards on June 2.

But in the vicious urban battle of Slavyansk, Ukraine’s helicopter forces suffered devastating blows from Separatists armed with heavy weapons from Russia. On May 2, two Mi-24s were shot down by AT-4 ‘Fagot’ anti-tank missiles, leaving just one survivor. Three days later, separatists ambushed another Mi-24 using a captured BMD vehicle as bait. The Hind’s gearbox was damaged by heavy machine-gun fire, causing it to crash land. Then in June, an Igla man-portable surface-to-air missile destroyed another Mi-24P.

The final nail in the coffin came in August when a Mi-24 was downed by Russian troops near Horlivka, as recorded below. Thereafter, Ukrainian aviation was broadly withdrawn from combat though a few Hinds were reportedly active in the 2015 Battle of Debaltseve.

To Build a Better Crocodile

Post-2014, Ukraine’s military began reactivating Hinds from storage. The 7th Regiment was expanded into the 12th Aviation Brigade, and a new 18th Brigade was raised as well. 

But even maintaining current assets proved tough after having lost access to spare titanium rotor blades built in Russia. While Ukraine was able to smuggle some black market tail rotors, company Motor Sich was compelled to build a new main rotor production line in 2021.

Kyiv also finally pursued upgrades to its Hinds it had touted back in 2008 when the Konotop Aircraft Repair Plant developed a two-stage modernization in partnership with French company SAGEM (which would implement the more ambitious second stage). Officially a Mi-24PU prototype “entered service” in 2012. However, it was until after the events of 2014 that Kyiv funded the first three subsequent upgraded airframes, which were finally delivered to units in 2016. 

From there on the Konotop Aviakon facility churned out additional PU-1s, first by stripping down and refurbishing Hinds brought out of storage often in very poor condition. Each upgrade required four months to complete, concluded with three test flights, and cost 25 million hryvnia ($849,000-$1.1 million.) You can see the production in the video below.

Though far from comprehensive, the PU-1 delivered important capabilities, starting with more powerful 2,800-horsepower TV3-117VMA-SBM1V turboshaft engines that reportedly increased service ceiling by 4,900 feet and maximum payload by 2,200 pounds. These also markedly improved performance in hot climates or with only one functioning engine. A pilot describes PU-1 as “…more powerful and maneuverable…Now you don’t worry about thrust dip while taking off, as it was in early models.”

PU-1s also have a new KT-01AV ADROS countermeasure system, designed to make heat-seeking missiles go haywire using flashing lights. This protects a 180-degree arc and supposedly has a 70-80% chance of defeating infrared-guided missiles. Back in May 26, 2014, Ukrainian Mi-24s supporting an air-assault operation at Donetsk International Airport managed to evade three Igla missiles, allegedly because these airframes already mounted the KTV-01AV.

Finally, the PU-1 has night operations capability thanks to Polish helmets mounting PNL-3 night-vision goggles and reworked lighting for compatibility. This is supplemented by a MAR-695 GPS navigation system, and FPM-01KV laser designator that can function as a gunsight at night.

Other trimmings include new radios, transponders and digital flight recorders, and an ASP-17VPM-V reflector gunsight with digital processing.

However, the second-stage PU-2 modernization was never funded due to inadequate funding and managerial shortfalls and allegedly French non-cooperation after 2014. This would have involved installing French systems including multi-function displays and an OLOS-410 sensor turret that could have provided laser-guidance for Ukrainian Barrier-V anti-tank missiles.

Inadequate fudning had much wider-ranging impacts according to a 2020 profile by Alex Mladenov:  Ukrainian pilots only averaged 55 and 62 flying hours in 2017 and 2018, compared to 200 hours typical for NATO military pilots. Zhirikov further wrote in 2021  “It’s no secret that now the entire fleet of Soviet Mi-24 attack helicopters is chained to the ground due to serious problems with spare parts.”

Ukrainian Hinds fight the Russian Invasion

Prior to hostilities, Flight Global counted 34 operational Mi-24s in Ukraine. Full complements of 10 each served in the 16th and 11th brigades in Brody and Kherson, while the 12th and 18th Brigades at Novi Kalinov and Poltava had six and four respectively, with a final four in the Congo detachment.

Ukrainian Hinds were active on the first day of the war supporting a ferocious counter-assault against Russian paratroopers that seized Antonov airport in the suburb of Hostomel, just outside Kyiv. Two videos show a Ukrainian Hinds unloading volleys of rockets.

Then at 5 AM on April 1, two apparent Ukrainian Hinds were unleashing a volley of rockets into an oil storage facility in Belgorod, Russia—causing a massive fireball, as detailed in this prior article. This attack was extremely daring given the threat posed by Russia’s multi-layered air defense system.

However, Ukrainian officials denied responsibility, leading some to claim the attack was a Russian false flag. 

However, there are several reasons to believe this was genuinely a Ukrainian attack: the raid, though extensively reported, doesn’t seem to have become central to Russian propaganda; the damage was real and disruptive and highly embarrassing to Russia’s military; and fuel stores are hardly the most provocative of targets.

Some additional day and night combat footage of purportedly Ukrainian Hinds has been released.

The Russian military claims to have shot down numerous Ukrainian Mi-24s, but the only confirmed loss so far is a 16th Brigade Hind piloted by Lt. Col. Aleksandr Marynyak Miroslavovich and Major. Ivan Romanovich was downed over Kyiv’s eastern suburb of Brovary on March 8. The veteran pilot’s posthumous decoration states he had destroyed “a large number of enemy soldiers, a cluster of fuel tankers and enemy equipment.”

The lack of further confirmed Mi-24 losses may mean Ukraine’s military is taking pains to preserve the force and deploy it selectively.

If and when fighting abates, Kyiv will face a choice between attempting again to modernize its Hinds—though some analysts argue it’s not worthwhile—or importing more modern attack helicopters from abroad. But as Russian forces begin a renewed push in Eastern Ukraine this April, we likely haven’t seen the last of Ukraine’s flying “Crocodiles.”

Further Reading

Alex Mladenov, “Tough Days on for Ukraine’s Military Helcopter Community”

Mikhail Zhirikov, “Ukrainian Arsenal: Mi-24 Attack Helicopters”

Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical, and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com, War is Boring, and 19FortyFive, where he is Defense-in-Depth editor.  He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China.  You can follow his articles on Twitter.

Written By

Sebastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical, and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the 19FortyFive, The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com, and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China.  

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Alex

    April 25, 2022 at 10:20 am

    The old Soviet MI-24s that Ukraine has continue to fall. Thanks to the people’s militia of Donbass, who destroy them. God bless the Ukrainians of Donbass!

  2. CK

    April 25, 2022 at 11:21 am

    Very interesting videos with some perspectives you’d never expect to see (or hope to). The Mi-24 has always been a workhorse!

    Ignore old Alex over here. He lives in his own reality. One where Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania also re-applied to join the Russian Federation. In this reality, Putin has conquered his hemorrhoids, and you and Sveta live happily ever after.

    It’s nice to sit back and daydream, isn’t it? 🙂

  3. Alex

    April 26, 2022 at 1:59 am

    The West failed to turn much of the world against Russia after the military operation in Ukraine began, columnist Howard French wrote in an article for Foreign Policy magazine.
    According to him, many states did not support sanctions against Moscow, including such large countries as India and China.

    “In fact, when counting the population of these countries, it becomes clear that the states representing the majority of humanity have not taken a position in this conflict, seeing in it the familiar echoes of the former rivalry between East and West,” said French.
    According to the observer, the international political system that took shape at the beginning of the twentieth century from the very beginning gave the countries of the “third world” the status of second-class states. As an example, he cited the colonization of Africa by European countries.

    “It was the work of the enslaved millions of people who grew sugar and cotton in huge quantities, cleared the land and did all other unpaid work that made the American colonies profitable for Europe, and the so-called “Old World” new and rich,” the author emphasized.

    French urged not to ignore the heightened sense of justice among the former colonized peoples.

  4. CK

    April 26, 2022 at 3:31 am

    Well Alex, if that is the case, we wish you the best of luck with your new Chinese masters. I hear they are very kind to minorities.

  5. Alex

    April 26, 2022 at 4:44 am

    If someone wants to know the truth about the civil war in the Donbass, about all the atrocities of the Bandera clean-ups and why Russia was forced to intervene, then it is better to watch films by independent journalists. There are already many such journalists who fight for truth and freedom. For example, a documentary by the German journalist Wilhelm Domcke-Schulz.

    A documentary film about the war crimes of the Bandera Nazis during the period of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine is in production. It will be a real information bomb, where the war crimes of Bandera Nazis will be shown and proved.

    The documentary “Remember Odessa” tells how the Bandera Nazis burned Ukrainians alive and other heinous war crimes.

    The documentary “To Live and Die in Donbass” tries to fill this gaping information gap in the West. He looks into the tormented soul of the inhabitants of Donbass, who really want only one thing – to live self-determining according to their own rules and values. Not submitting to foreign forces and ideologies.

    In the east of Ukraine, in the Donbass, a war has been raging since the beginning of 2014. A civil war that claimed more than 15,000 lives over the years, including several hundred children. They had to die, because the national-fascist coup government in Kyiv, funded by the West, trained and militarily heavily armed, would not tolerate any resistance to their illegitimate rule, no matter the cost.

    Therefore, in April 2014, the putschists deployed the Ukrainian army, supported by dozens of right-wing extremist volunteer battalions, and have since bombed city centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, killing civilians.

    This perennial crime has gone completely unnoticed by the Western public. Politicians and the media avoid this topic and reports about how the devil pours holy water. Because a public discussion about the crimes of the Ukrainian regime would reveal only one thing – with what mass murderers and terrorists the so-called “west of values” in Ukraine has a common language, if only to defend their goals and interests.

  6. CK

    April 26, 2022 at 7:10 am

    lol, an “independent” journalist with a piece called “Life in the beautiful GDR…” riiiight.

    Also, two posts in one day Alex? You guys must really be starting to worry.

  7. Alex

    April 26, 2022 at 7:53 am

    At the beginning of summer, all the media will be telling the truth about how the Bandera Nazis destroyed Ukrainians. Stay tuned and please watch the films I wrote above. You’ll like it.

  8. CK

    April 26, 2022 at 10:46 am

    Ah, it’s summer now. Weird, I thought it would have been 57 days ago? Your deadlines keep increasing. Like your delusions.

  9. Alex

    April 29, 2022 at 9:13 am

    If someone wants to know the truth about the civil war in the Donbass, about all the atrocities of the Bandera clean-ups and why Russia was forced to intervene, then it is better to watch films by independent journalists. There are already many such journalists who fight for truth and freedom. For example, a documentary by the German journalist Wilhelm Domcke-Schulz.

    A documentary film about the war crimes of the Bandera Nazis during the period of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine is in production. It will be a real information bomb, where the war crimes of Bandera Nazis will be shown and proved.

    The documentary “Remember Odessa” tells how the Bandera Nazis burned Ukrainians alive and other heinous war crimes.

    The documentary “To Live and Die in Donbass” tries to fill this gaping information gap in the West. He looks into the tormented soul of the inhabitants of Donbass, who really want only one thing – to live self-determining according to their own rules and values. Not submitting to foreign forces and ideologies.

    In the east of Ukraine, in the Donbass, a war has been raging since the beginning of 2014. A civil war that claimed more than 15,000 lives over the years, including several hundred children. They had to die, because the national-fascist coup government in Kyiv, funded by the West, trained and militarily heavily armed, would not tolerate any resistance to their illegitimate rule, no matter the cost.

    Therefore, in April 2014, the putschists deployed the Ukrainian army, supported by dozens of right-wing extremist volunteer battalions, and have since bombed city centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, killing civilians.

    This perennial crime has gone completely unnoticed by the Western public. Politicians and the media avoid this topic and reports about how the devil pours holy water. Because a public discussion about the crimes of the Ukrainian regime would reveal only one thing – with what mass murderers and terrorists the so-called “west of values” in Ukraine has a common language, if only to defend their goals and interests.

    Lend-lease is a commodity loan, and not cheap: for all the ammunition, equipment and food supplied by the United States, many future generations of Ukrainian citizens will pay. Zelensky is driving the country into a debt hole.

  10. CK

    April 29, 2022 at 1:44 pm

    Ah, I see your tactic. You add a little shitty first paragraph so it doesn’t detect your duplicate post. Is this what it has come to now, you just posting the same exact post 2, 3, 4, 5 times per article?

    Wow, did they run out of paper in Russia, Alex? You guys can’t print new material? Literally using the same lines, over and over again, and now in duplicate in every post!

    Are you so defeated you can’t even come up with anything new? How sad. Now the idiot is talking about lend-lease at the end of his post, because he literally just copy + pasted it from another thread, with zero relevance to this one.

    Here’s a reminder:

    If someone wanted to know the truth about anything in Ukraine Alex, the last person they would go to is you.

    Paragraphs and paragraphs of bollocks, dubious claims about “independent journalists”, random documentarians, conspiracy theorists, deluded claims that of course, have no backup, lie after lie after lie.

    Classical Kremlin troll approach. Just flood the internet, the comments, the media, with tosh, doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure you write some old nonsense. Make sure to say the claim is supported by some dude in Germany, France, the states. If it’s a “documentary” (usually from youtube) then the better.

    Anything that victimises Russia, always the victim, always the bullied, never the problem. It’s always the Nazis. It’s always some pseudo-historical point.

    Anyone that has had the misfortune to study your “tactics” sees the forest for the trees, the pattern of lies, disinformation, blanketing of random claims, deflection, obfuscation, and other words beyond your vocabulary.

    It’s hopeless Alex. Your lies are as short as your intellect. What a pathetic job, to sit in your government shed, spreading your pathetic, government lies.

    A pathetic job for a truly pathetic man. A better match could not be made in heaven.

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