Russia is currently in talks with Afghanistan over the sale of an unknown number of Mi-35 attack helicopters, most likley the M or “Hind E” variant to Afghanistan.
The of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asia Department, Zamir Kabulov told a Russian newspaper that Afghanistan’s first Vice President, Abdul Rashid Dostum had initially requested Moscow’s military support in a bid to fight against ISIS insurgents and added that they plan on conclude a contract with the Afghan government in October.
“We plan to conclude a contract with the Afghan side in October on the delivery, on a commercial basis, of several Mi-35 combat helicopters,” Kabulov said.
Earlier this April, the Afghan government had announced its interest in purchasing new Russian attack helicopters and revealed that they will start negotiating a deal with Moscow soon.
“We intend to buy Mi-35 helicopters from Russia. This issue is on the agenda. I think we will begin negotiations on that in the nearest future,” an Afghan government official told Interfax back then.
Old gunships not enough
Currently, the Afghan Air Force is relying heavily on five armored older versions of the Mi-35 gunships that were supplied to them by the Czech Republic back in 2008. However, those helicopters are rarely operational.
The Mi-35 M gunship, which is an export version of the Mi-24 gunship, was developed by the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant and has been manufactured in Russia since 2005. After initially serving Russian military, it has been exported to Azerbaijan, Brazil, Iraq and Venezuela in recent times.
In what is considered to be one of the most effective gunships in the world today, the Mi-35 is tailored for mountainous terrain and can be deployed anytime regardless of adverse weather conditions.
Tailored for mountainous terrain deployment
“The company website of Russian Helicopters notes that the Mi-35 is particularly suited for mountainous terrain and can be deployed “round the clock” in adverse weather conditions. The website notes that the helicopter offers “combat use of guided and unguided weapons in regular and challenging climate conditions” and is “operational for attack flights at altitudes of 10-25 m daytime and 50 m at night over land or water.”
It is a close-air support aircraft that can be deployed against ground troops, armoured targets, unmanned aerial vehicles and other helicopters which is why it is considered as one of the most effective gunships in the world today.
Moreover, it can also be used to complete a wide variety of missions, including low-capacity troop transport (it can support up to eight paratroopers) and medical evacuation missions. The gunship can also carry military supplies weighing up to 1,500 kg internally and 2,400 kg externally.
Apart from providing these gunships, Russia is also willing to provide Afghan officers military training. Kabulov says that Russia is already helping Afghan government forces learn battle tactics as the country looks to bring some stability inside its borders.
“Afghanistan has an army and many Afghans are capable of bearing arms and know how to use them well. We need to strengthen the national potential, and not try to defend the Afghan government with foreign troops,” Kabulov said attacking the U.S. and NATO military presence in the country.
In order to shore up Afghan air power, the United States has been bringing US-made MD 530 F light attack helicopters to the frontline as a temporary measure due to the delays in the delivery of 20 Brasilian-made Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucanos fixed winged aircraft that has been designed to conduct counter-insurgency operations.
Afghan military not happy with current firepower
The Afghan military troops are currently not happy with the fleet of American-manufactured light attack helicopter gunships since these helicopters cannot reach out to areas where Taliban insurgents usually conduct their operations. Moreover, these choppers cannot cross the mountain ranges surrounding Kabul.
“This plane is a total mess,” Colonel Qalandar Shah Qalandari said. “To be honest, I don’t know why we have this plane here.” One MD-530F recently crashed east of Kabul. “When my pilots fly in this, only God and I know what they’re going through,” the Colonel told the New York Times. “And I don’t know whether they’ll make it back.”
All in all, the Afghan Air Force is not happy with the assistance it has received from the US and it is clear that in a sign of desperation, they have sought Russian help who they have found to be very accommodating. Moreover, the delivery of the Russian gunships will surely help the Afghan forces in culling down Taliban activity in the region following the group’s recent resurgence that has seen them reclaim the north western town of Kunduz.