The Russian Helicopter Company is continuing to work on the development of an improved version of the Ka-52 armed helicopter, the Ka-52K Katran. So when it completed, will the Ka-52K Katran surpass the features of the US AH-64 Apache armed helicopter?
The Ministry of Defense and Russian Helicopters have signed a contract to continue work on the development of a new version of the Katran helicopter, which is expected to be fully ready by 2023. At present, ground testing has been completed. completed, just waiting for sea trials to put them into service.
There is not much work left to do, as four prototypes have completely passed the entire ground-testing program by the end of 2019. In mid-2020, RIA Novosti quoted Sergei Mikheev, General Director of theMil and Kamov said that the Katran armed helicopter is fully ready.
However, the Russian Ministry of Defense decided to slow down this process. The decision to put the Ka-52K into service began only after the armed helicopter had been tested in sea conditions and was mass-produced according to the requirements set forth by the Russian Defense Ministry.
However, the decision of the Russian Ministry of Defense seems unreasonable, when at first, the construction of Katran helicopters was mainly to equip two Mistral helicopter landing ships from France. But due to sanctions, the amphibious ships were not sold to Russia.
In 2020, at the Zaliv shipyard in Kerch, two Project 23900 multipurpose landing ships (UDC) of the Zelenodolsk Design Bureau named Ivan Rogov and Mitrofan Moskalenko were ordered. Therefore, the Ministry of Defense has now continued to finance the Katran completion project.
It is clear that the Ka-52K helicopter will not be tested onboard the Ivan Rogov. To do this, they will be looking for a number of other ships, adapted to be able to land one or two anti-submarine or transport helicopters on them; because the Ivan Rogov helicopter landing craft could enter service only later this decade, or early next decade.
The reason is that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, during the past 30 years, the Russian shipbuilding industry has not been able to build such large ships. UDC’s 23900 project has a total displacement of 40,000 tons. The length of the ship reached 220 m, width 38 m, draft 8 m.
There is information that the early introduction of Katran helicopters into mass production is related to the Egyptian ship Mistral. After receiving the Mistral helicopter landing ships, Cairo immediately signed a contract for the purchase of 50 Ka-52s; including the Ka-52 Alligator (ground attack) and Ka-52K Katran (sea operations) versions.
However, during use, another obstacle was discovered, that is, the Alligator armed helicopter is not suitable for operating in a highly corrosive marine environment. Technical problems began to arise with the engines, avionics, navigation systems and night vision systems.
Besides, the climate of Egypt is hot, so the engine loses power in different flight modes. For this reason, Egypt decided to create two mixed air groups using different attack helicopters, the Russian Ka-52 Alligator and the American AH-64 Apaches.
The AH-64 armed helicopter is also a ground attack version, which up to this point has not been used on board ships. But the Americans, constantly engaged in wars all over the world, so the AH-64 has achieved stable operation in different climatic conditions. Even in African climates.
However, helicopters operating on landing ships often have to have a special structure, that is, the propeller must be folded when the helicopter is not in operation, otherwise the plane would take up a lot of deck space and hangar space. The Ka-52 helicopter has a folding propeller, which is very convenient.
The Ka-52 Alligator helicopter version is currently being upgraded to operate on the helicopter landing craft, which is the Ka-52M version. The Ka-52M is armed with the Hermes air-to-surface missile, which can be used by both ground helicopters and amphibious ships.
Hermes missile has a range of 20 km, this is also a ground attack missile exclusively for army aviation, including helicopters and attack aircraft. All Russian-made aviation anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) currently have a range of no more than 10-12 km.
Hermes is a very important weapon for helicopters, because with this type of missile, the helicopter does not need to fly into the fire area of the enemy’s short-range air defense systems to launch the missile; because these air defense systems usually have a damage radius of no more than 15 km.
Therefore, Russian helicopters equipped with ATGM Hermes-A have an advantage over the American Apache, when American helicopters are only equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles with a maximum range of 11 km but American designers consider this “reasonably safe”.
However, if equipped with missiles with a range of 11km, the helicopter can only avoid anti-aircraft artillery and man-portable anti-aircraft missiles such as Stinger and Igla; but completely unable to resist air defense systems like Pantsir S1.
The Hermes-A missile uses first-stage inertial guidance; in the final stage is fully automated by the missile’s own radar and infrared detectors. This is a type of missile used in the “fire and forget” style, with very high anti-interference ability. But building a long-range missile is one thing, using it on a plane is quite another. The simple reason is that before pressing the missile launch button, the pilot must detect and lock the target. However, with a distance of more than 10km, it is impossible to detect targets with optical glasses or eyes.
The GOES-451 optical positioning station on Katran with television channels and thermal imaging observations is also not suitable. This device allows the pilot to detect a tank in daylight at a distance of 20 km and lock it at a distance of 16 km.
At night or in foggy and foggy conditions when visibility is poor, the GOES-451 device can only detect the target at a distance of 16 km, locking the target at 10 km. That is, the GOES-451 cannot be used to launch the Hermes-A missile.
Therefore, to detect targets, Katran helicopters must use radar. The radar mounted on the Ka-52 currently has a detection range of its ground targets in the range of about 15 km. Therefore, the helicopter’s radar must be modernized, possibly the Zhuk-A phased array radar, so that its detection range exceeds the range of the Hermes-A missile.