August 20, 2012: Rather than seek out and buy a new medium transport helicopter design, the Russian Air Force is buying 400 updated Mi-8 helicopters. There are several updated Mi-8 models involved. For example, the Mi-8AMTSh is a "combat assault helicopter" that can be equipped with missiles and autocannon, as well as carry up to 37 troops or four tons of cargo. Then there is the Mi-8MTV5-1, which has new engines that enable it to operate at high and hot altitudes (which are difficult conditions for helicopters).
Decades of upgrades and improvements to the Mi-8 design have made it a reliable and affordable choice for armed forces around the world and in Russia itself (which currently has about 600 Mi-8s in the air force alone). The basic Mi-8 is a twin-engine helicopter that is a contemporary of the U.S. UH-1 of the 1960s. But the Mi-8/17 is still in production and is the most widely exported (2,800 out of 12,000 made) helicopter on the planet. The Mi-8 is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1 but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 has a larger interior and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1. The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. The UH-60, while weighing ten tons (compared to UH-1's 4.8 tons), could carry as much as the 13 ton Mi-8. But the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60 and the larger interior is popular with many users.