Why the Mil Mi-24 has no Western Counterpart
In the height of the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the U.S. did their best to outdo each other. No shots were fired back then, but the sworn enemies bared their sharpest fangs at each other’s throat. The thing was they must prove to everyone who was the better superpower. So much was their rivalry that the outer space almost became their proving ground.
And in the tensions of the Cold War, the two superpowers came up with some of the most amazing military hardware. If necessity is the mother of creativity, then destructive creativity is at its best here. For the weapons of war that appeared in those days took exotic forms.
And thanks to Soviet designer Mikhail Mil, a flying infantry fighting vehicle took to the sky.
Well, it’s not what people think when we mentioned “flying infantry fighting vehicle.” No, it is not a hovering Bradley but a juiced-up helicopter.
In the West, they have separate helicopters for troop transport and attack. But Mikhail Mil came up with a helicopter that does both. It was heavily armed and fast, basically an attack helicopter but with extra features. It could transport troops inside its armored passenger compartment. Meet the Mil Mi-24 “Hind,” a true flying tank.
Brief History of the "Hind"
The concept of a helicopter dedicated to ground attack began as soon as people realized that you could put weapons in a helicopter.
In the 1950s, helicopters are limited to transport, though armed helicopters already appeared in the later years, like the Sikorsky H-34s. Their combat capabilities are limited though, but in the 1960s, armed Bell UH-1s were fielded in Vietnam. They were moderate success when adapted to ground attack roles. But the “Huey” was slow and lacking protection. In order to be fully capable of ground attack, helicopters must be redesigned from the ground up. And with speed and protection in mind, the Bell AH-1 Cobra was born. Over the years, attack helicopters became more sophisticated, and we now have the feared AH-64D Apache Longbow prowling at low level to plink tanks and troops.
But as the West push for specialized helicopters dedicated solely for attack, the Soviets have other things in mind.
The idea is a weapon that could provide battlefield mobility, and fire power for support as well. Unlike the Western concept of a fully attack helicopter, the Soviets came up with a form of “flying armored infantry fighting vehicle.” A helicopter that could attack, and transport as well. Yes, the Vietnam era UH-1 was already doing that but remember that the Huey was not that good for a fully dedicated ground attack. What the Soviets wanted is a helicopter with speed, fire power and protection of an attack helicopter, but also capable of troop transport. A flying infantry fighting vehicle indeed.
The first concept of this new breed of helicopter was unveiled by aerospace engineer Mikhail Mil in 1966. The mock-up was based from a utility helicopter “V-22” (never entered production), this time it had cabin for eight soldiers and wings for weapons. The Mock-up was designated as “V-24.”
At first, the senior members of the Soviet armed forces are against the idea, insisting on more conventional weapons. But Mil managed to convince the defense minister first deputy, Marshal Andrey A. Grechko and he eventually gained support (citing the advantages of helicopter gunships during the Vietnam War).
Work eventually proceed, long after Mil’s death in the 1950s, and the “Hind” was completed in 1972.
Outside, the helicopter is very distinguishable. Because of the twin top mounted turboshaft engines, it has double air intake. The rotor has five blades. For cockpit configuration, earlier models used a greenhouse style cockpit, which made it look very different from the Mil Mi-24 we see today. Just to give you an idea, the original versions uses flat glass, unlike the rounded canopies of the later models. This means that when the first Mil Mi-24 rolled put, it looked angular and sharper. Later designs then adopted the tandem cockpit, like the ones used in modern attack helicopters, and the more familiar “double bubble” canopy.
Like many combat choppers, the Mil Mi-24 has wings with hardpoints, both for weapons mounting and for providing lift.
With an armored fuselage, titanium rotors and ballistic resistant windscreens, the Mil Mi-24 could withstand 12.7 mm rounds. Cockpit and troop compartment could protect the crew from NBC conditions.
The Mil Mi-24 could be armed with a variety of internal guns, rocket launchers, missiles, even bombs up to 500 kg.
And when it comes to speed, it could zoom at 208 mph thanks to its streamlined design.
The Mil Mi-24 saw extensive use by the Soviet army, and the countries operating it. Most notably was the Soviet-Afghan war, where it earned the nickname “Shaitan Arba,” (Satan’s Chariot) among the Mujahideen rebels due to its intimidatingly destructive presence. It did become vulnerable to Stinger missiles supplied by the CIA to the rebels.
It Has no Western Equivalence
The Mil Mi-24 is often considered a true “assault helicopter.” Not just an attack helicopter, but a gunship capable of inflicting heavy damages and carrying troops all the same. It could perform like a dedicated attack helicopter; fast, maneuverable and heavily armed, while carrying up to eight soldiers. The Soviet Union did create a flying infantry fighting vehicle.
And up to now, it never had a Western counterpart.
During the Vietnam War, the Huey was used to ferry troops and provide firepower. But unlike the Mil Mi-24 it cannot do both at the same time. In order to convert the Huey into an attack helicopter, the whole passenger compartment must be stripped to accommodate the extra fuel and ammunition. And the additional cargo of weapons will render the Huey heavier and slower.
The US Army did experiment with the Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk, a helicopter made for attack and transport. During test, it proved to be smooth and responsive despite of the size and speed. But after a crash in an airshow (September 1974) which killed its test pilots, development work ceased.
Other possible equivalence is the Romanian IAR 330, a licensed built version of SA 330 Puma. While the armed variant of the UH-60 Black Hawk (MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator) is also another possible candidate.
But overall, the “Hind” proves to be a unique class of its own.
1. Halberstadt, Hans (1994). "Red Star Fighters & Ground Attack". Windrow & Greene.
2. Gordon, Yefim; Komissarov, Dmitry (2001). Mil Mi-24 Hind, Attack Helicopter. Airlife.
3. "An Abridged History of the Army Attack Helicopter Program". Office of the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. Department of the Army. 1973.