Air Transportation: New Russian Combat Transport Helicopter

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August 16, 2013: The Russian Army recently ordered 40 Mi-8 AMTSh combat transport helicopters for $9.5 million each. This model has more powerful engines than the stock Mi-8/17 and is rigged to accept weapons (missiles, rockets, and a 23mm autocannon). This is actually a variant of the latest Mi-17 which was originally the export version of the Mi-8 but has evolved into a new standard that is being adopted by new models of the Mi-8.

The Mi-17 has been very popular outside Russia. Even the U.S. has bought over a hundred of them for Afghanistan, and then Iraq, as part of American military aid. These Russian choppers have Western electronics installed and are often rebuilt to make them more reliable and durable.

The cost of these Mi-17s varies widely. Some second hand ones from Eastern European nations cost less than a million dollars each. Iraq obtained 22 Mi-17 helicopters from Russia for about $3.7 million each. At one point the U.S. bought 24 refurbished Mi-17s for $4.4 million each. The most expensive purchase was for 22 Mi-17s equipped for night operations and with American electronics. These cost nearly $15 million each.

Afghans and Iraqis prefer the Mi-17, as they have used Russian helicopters for decades. The Mi-8/17 is a twin-engine helicopter roughly equivalent to the U.S. UH-1. But the Mi-8/17 is still in production and is the most widely exported (3,000 out of 12,000) made helicopter on the planet.

For many bargain conscious nations Russian helicopters are preferred. In particular, the Mi-8 and Mi-17 are still in big demand. This chopper is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1, although it only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 has a larger interior and can carry 24 troops (or up to 40 civilians), 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 current Mi-8 AMTSh model is yet another example of that.

The UH-60, while weighing twice as much as the 4.8 ton UH-1, could carry as much as the 12 ton Mi-8. However, the Mi-8 costs less than half as much as a UH-60, so if you want mobility for the least cost you get the Mi-17. Many peacekeeping and humanitarian operations go for the Mi-17, which can be leased from Eastern European firms, complete with maintenance crews and English speaking pilots.

 

 


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