Ka-52 Alligator: Russia’s Workhorse Attack Helicopter

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The Russian military has released a series of videos showing Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters destroying a range of NATO armor in Ukraine, including Leopard tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, amid Kiev’s sputtering counteroffensive. What are the Ka-52’s origins? What makes the chopper unique? Sputnik explores.

Judging by the clips being put out by the Military of Defense, the Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopter has been become a jack-of-all trades weapon, searching out, homing in on and targeting everything from armored vehicles and tanks to enemy strongholds, and serving as the backbone of Russian rotary frontline aviation.

What’s the Ka-52 Alligator’s Origin Story?

The Ka-52’s origins can be traced back to the Soviet period, with the Kamov Design Bureau starting development work on the helicopter’s older cousin, the Ka-50 Black Shark – an all-weather, highly maneuverable, heavy payload-carrying, single-seater attack and reconnaissance helicopter with a unique coaxial rotor system, in the 1970s, with testing kicking off in 1982. By the time the Ka-50 entered service in the mid-1990s, the USSR had collapsed and the Russian economy was in depression, leaving little money for mass production. Only about 16 Ka-50 series choppers were built.

Keeping their noses to the grindstone, Kamov’s engineers continued to upgrade and modernize their bird – keeping its design up-to-date and in line with the latest technological standards. The result was the Ka-52, a Ka-50 modification with a unique side-by-side seating arrangement, with the second crewmember tasked with operating a heavy-duty reconnaissance radar and optical-electronic surveillance and targeting system.

The Ka-52 has a number of other standout differences from the Ka-50, including a less protruded nose configuration – designed to reduce the twin-seater’s radar profile, and a customized rocket-assisted ejection system to account for the need to eject two people instead of one. The Ka-52 is also more heavily armed, featuring six hard points instead of four.

What’s more, the chopper has a new all-weather ‘Argument-52’ avionics complex with open architecture, automated surveillance, and flight monitoring system, encrypted airborne communications system, airborne defense complex, and a forward-looking radar complex known as the Arbalet-52.

Overall, about 86 percent of the Ka-52’s components are unified with the Ka-50 platform.

The Ka-52 began production in 2008, with Russian Army Aviation beginning operations of the chopper in 2011.

Why Does the Ka-52 Alligator’s Have Coaxial Rotors?

The Ka-52’s coaxial rotor arrangement is its stand-out feature, and is a unique engineering solution allowing for much greater efficiency compared to a single rotor design, and also eliminating the need for a tail rotor. The chopper’s twin rotor design gives it unparalleled rate of climb and maneuverability characteristics which have proven vital to carrying out evasive maneuvers.

What is the Ka-52’s Main Armament?

The Ka-52 is armed with a side-mounted 2A42 30mm cannon. It can be fitted with 9M120 Ataka laser-guided anti-tank missiles featuring a tandem cumulative warhead, or a 9m120F thermobaric warhead variant for use against fortifications. The chopper can also be equipped with Igla-V air-to-air missiles for use against aerial threats, and the Hermes-A, an air-launched version of a multipurpose missile system used against ground and air targets at ranges up to 100 km. The helicopter can also carry a range of aerial bombs or unguided 240 mm S-24 air-to-ground rockets. The Ka-52 has a total combat payload of up to 2,800 kg – keep the latter figure in mind, it’s important.

How is the Ka-52 Able to Evade Enemy Anti-Aircraft Defenses?

The Ka-52’s maneuverability characteristics go a long way in helping it evade enemy air attack, with exhaust diffusers and flare dispensers assisting in the battle to trick missiles. In addition, the chopper’s onboard Vitebsk-25 electronic warfare suite made headlines recently after a Ka-52 reportedly took on 18 enemy MANPADS and survived, detecting and jamming their frequencies before they had a chance to home in. The Vitebsk-25 can reportedly jam threats in the 4-18 GHz range across 120 degrees azimuth and 60 degrees elevation.

How Does the Ka-52 Stack Up Compared to the AH 64 Apache?

When Soviet authorities ordered work on the Ka-50 to begin in the 1970s, it was in direct response to intelligence reports that the US military was working to create a new generation of attack helicopter. It should therefore be of little surprise that the Ka-50/52 and the Hughes Helicopters/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing AH 64 Apache share superficial similarities – given that both took design cues and onboard avionics, engine and armament from what was then the cutting edge of military helicopter technology.

Unlike the Ka-52 with its coaxial 3×3 blade system, the Apache uses a traditional, four-blade single rotor, plus traditional tail rotor. Ka-52s have a higher top speed and a larger maximum range than the Apache thanks to their rotor design (315 km per hour and 1,100 km vs 305 km p/h and about 480 km, respectively). The Apache edges out the Russian chopper in terms of flight ceiling and is capable of ascending to about 20,000 feet compared to 18,000 feet, respectively. The choppers’ onboard avionics and weapons are comparable, with the Apache featuring a 30 mm M230 Chain Gun, four hard points for an array of air-to-ground, air-to-air missiles and bombs, for a total payload of about 770 kg – which is over three times less than the Ka-52! However, the US military has developed a drone wing mate program to help identify and attack enemy targets, a feature which should further improve the Apache’s lethality.

Who Has Ka-52 Besides Russia? How Much Do They Cost?

Ka-52s are operated by the Russian Aerospace Forces and Russian Naval Aviation, plus the Egyptian Air Force. Cairo received a complement of at least 46 Ka-52s as part of the Mistral amphibious assault carrier deal. About 200 Alligators have been produced to date. The Russian military has remained tight-lipped about the chopper’s price tag, although some digging by Russian media in 2021 revealed a per unit cost of about 1.075 billion rubles (about $13 million at today’s exchange rate).





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