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.
Russian Mi-24 over southern Ukraine pic.twitter.com/R2lPJmlrEE
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) April 20, 2022
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.
(THREAD) Rare perspectives: Here’s some combat footage showing things you might not have seen before. First, here’s onboard footage from when a Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopter was shot down by Pro-Russian rebels (w/ MANPADS) over E. Ukraine (Aug, 2014). Both pilots KIA. Scary. pic.twitter.com/aS16FBx2pY
— Hugo Kaaman (@HKaaman) May 17, 2018
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.
A Ukrainian Mi-24 strike to the just landed from helicopter Russian airborne units.
— ??? ???? ???????? (@TheDeadDistrict) February 26, 2022
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.
Ukrainian Mi-24 attack helicopter strike Russian position pic.twitter.com/qKFZIqWYLH
— Paul Jawin (@PaulJawin) April 22, 2022
VIDEO from inside the cockpit of a Ukrainian Hind attack helicopter “at work” firing on Russian targets. #Ukraine #Russia #Putin #UkraineRussianWar #PutinWarCriminal #RussiaUkraineWar pic.twitter.com/ipUgACjYhZ
— raging545 (@raging545) April 10, 2022
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.”
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.