Production of this unique helicopter, which had stopped in the mid-1990s, has now resumed completely, a Progress spokesman told RIA Novosti. "This made it possible to involve about 3,000 workers in this state contract. We plan to build four Ka-50s for the Russian Armed Forces in 2007," he said.
In mid-2006, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the State Armaments Program called for buying 12 Ka-50 helicopters in addition to the three operational Ka-50s by 2015.
Seven unique Ka-50 helicopters on service with the Russian Armed Forces by late 2007. Will this be enough? What are the Black Shark's main specifications? Why is the Russian Army staking on the Mil Mi-28 Havoc, the revamped Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship, the Mi-17 Hip assault helicopter and their modified versions? And why does it buy so few Kamov helicopters, including the Ka-50, the Ka-52 Alligator and the Ka-60 Kasatka (Killer Whale)? Let's try to answer these inter-linked questions.
First of all, the Ka-50 should not be considered "unlucky."
In 1984, the Ka-50, formerly called the V-80, won a secret tender organized by the Soviet Communist Party's Central Committee, the Soviet Government and Defense Ministry, which wanted a new attack helicopter to replace the obsolete Mi-24 Hind (Crocodile), which had fought well in the 1979-1989 Afghan War.
The tender's organizers wanted the Ka-50 to outperform the Mi-24. The Ka-50 packed a more devastating punch than the Mi-24, and was capable of flying reconnaissance and combat missions round the clock and in any weather. It could destroy tanks and armored vehicles, as well as enemy fortifications. Moreover, the Ka-50 could withstand intense enemy fire and knock down aerial targets.
The pilot sits inside an all-armored cockpit, which cannot be pierced by the 12.7-mm Degtyaryov-Shpagin heavy machine-gun and the 20-mm M-61 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling-style gun at 100 meters. For comparison, the AH-64A Apache, the best foreign attack helicopter to date, is fitted with M-61Vulcan guns and an armored seat for pilot protection.
The Ka-50 became the first helicopter in history to receive the K-37-800 ejection seat, developed by the Zvezda research and production association (NPO), which supplies ejection seats to Sukhoi, Mikoyan-Gurevich and Tupolev aircraft corporations. Consequently, the Ka-50 pilot can eject to safety the way a fighter pilot does.
Moreover, the Ka-50's avionics ensure automatic flight and landing in case the pilot blacks out.
Kamov Company General Designer Sergei Mikheyev, who supervised the Ka-50 project, said the new helicopter was to have the most advanced scientific and technological achievements. According to him, the Ka-50 was designed to protect the pilot to the maximum possible extent, so that he could openly confront enemy tanks.
The Ka-50 was therefore fitted with a 2A42 30-mm gun, which is 100-200% heavier than an aircraft cannon or that of the AH-64 Apache helicopter, but its range and armor penetrating capacity exceeds their parameters several times over.
The helicopter's dirt, dust and water-resistant cannon is a big advantage in low-altitude combat missions.
In addition to this rapid-fire gun, the Ka-50 has the unique custom-made Vikhr (Vortex) anti-tank guided missiles, which were developed at the Tula-based Instrument Design Bureau headed by Arkady Shipunov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
These automatic, supersonic and laser-guided missiles pierce thick armor (up to 0.9 meter) and cannot be diverted by enemy ECM (Electronic Counter-measures) systems. They can hit tanks, mechanized infantry combat vehicles, self-propelled guns, medium-range and shorter-range missile launchers, as well as aerial targets.
The Ka-50's computer can receive target acquisition data from other helicopters, including the Ka-52, and AWACS-type early warning planes, as well as ground reconnaissance systems and scouts.
The pilot then flashes such data on computer screens, and the computer will tell him about high-priority or the most dangerous targets within firing range. All the pilot has to do is activate the automatic sighting system to aim his guided missiles and push several buttons. All targets will be destroyed at a range of up to 10 km.
Apart from the 12 Vikhr guided missiles, the Ka-50 has 80 B-8V20A rocket projectiles, which also have great capabilities.
The Ka-50, one of the best attack helicopters, has "starred" in the popular action movie "Black Shark." It can execute a 180-degree banked turn at full speed, fire a burst at the enemy and continue flying along a preset route. Only co-axial helicopters can perform such breath-taking stunts.
The helicopter's two co-axial three-blade rotors regulate lift and enable it to move in the required direction. However, this unusual layout has evidently done the Ka-50 a bad service because no country has so far used co-axial helicopters in combat. Russian generals are therefore in no hurry to adopt it.
However, the Russian Navy has been operating Ka-25 Hormone and Ka-27 Helix co-axial helicopters and their modified versions for a long time now. They are also popular with the Indian Navy.
The Russian Army does not favor co-axial helicopters because they are crewed by just one pilot, who also acts as navigator and gun-layer with the help of an onboard computer.
Some generals are concerned about this because they believe any helicopter should have at least two pilots, who can replace each other in an emergency.
The Ka-50's opponents did their best to torpedo this project when Russia faced a budgetary crisis in the early 1990s and defense appropriations were slashed. The very existence of Russia's Armed Forces was jeopardized at that time.
However, project managers did not give up and tried hard to save their brainchild.
(the continuation of this article will be posted soon)
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The current contract portfolio of Russian arms exporters is worth about $46 billion. Annual exports total $15 billion, and this will ensure uninterrupted deliveries for the next three years, even in the worst-case scenario. The list of the main buyers of Russian weapons is unlikely to change drastically.