Russian Helicopters corporation has confirmed that the Ka-52K Katran attack helicopter remains the company’s priority project for the Russian Navy, given that it is much better suited to Navy tasks than its Mi-28N and Ka-52 cousins. Military observer Andrei Kotz explains what’s so special about the chopper.
The Ka-52K, the naval variant of the Kamov Ka-52 Aligator assault helicopter, was originally designed for use aboard the Mistral-class amphibious assault ships ordered by the Russian Defense Ministry in 2010. The compact ship-borne chopper design features folding rotor blades and wings, a specialized life-support system (including immersion suits for crew), and advanced new sea-mode fire-control radar with support for anti-ship missiles.
The chopper also has reinforced heavy-duty landing gear, ensuring improved crew survivability in case of an emergency landings. A special anti-corrosion treatment is applied to the fuselage, locking out moisture and sea salt, saving the helicopter from rust and extending its service life. Other improvements over the base Ka-52 include a new ventilation system connected to flight suits to keep crew nice and cool during flight.
At the height of the crisis in Ukraine and amid pressure from its NATO allies, France canceled the Mistral deal in 2015 and sold the ships to Egypt instead. Although Egypt will purchase a full complement of Katrans for its Mistrals, in Russia the unique helicopter has had a more difficult fate, since the Navy does not yet have specialized ships capable of making use of its advanced capabilities.
According to RIA Novosti military observer Andrei Kotz, the Katran is not just a Navy variant of the Ka-52, but arguably a chopper with superior combat capabilities over its army cousin.
For example, Kotz noted that “the Ka-52K features a short-range radiotechnical navigation system, not found on the base Ka-52. Over the ocean its not always possible to find a reference point, while building a route guided by the stars is possible only on a cloudless nights. The new system makes it much more difficult for the Katran to get lost at sea.”
Furthermore, the expert explained that “to detect targets, the Katran is equipped with the powerful Zhuk-A active phased array radar – the system fitted aboard the latest models of the Su-27 and the promising MiG-35 fighters. This system can detect tanks, aircraft and enemy ships at a range of up to 200 km, accompanying up to 30 targets at a time, and simultaneously firing on up to eight.”
The Katran’s main armament is expected to include the new Hermes-A anti-tank guided missile, whose 20 km range significantly exceeds that of the Vikhr (‘Whirlwind’) and the Ataka (‘Attack’) missiles equipped aboard the Ka-52 and Mi-28N, respectively. (The Vikhr’s range is 10 km, and the Ataka’s is 6 km.)
“In this way,” Kotz wrote, “the Katran does not need to enter the enemy’s short-range air defenses to destroy its targets, thus transforming it from a ‘flying tank’ into an effective ‘sniper’.”
Combined with the impressive features of the base Ka-52, including its armored cockpit, unique ejection system (which literally blows rotor blades aside via explosive charges in the rotor disc upon ejection), the coaxial layout of the rotors themselves, which give the chopper excellent control in strong lateral winds, and its modern on-board radio-electronic equipment, the Katran is truly a a universal combat system.
At the moment, the Russian Navy has only one squadron of pre-mass production series Ka-52s. Mass production is expected to begin in 2020. At the moment, thanks to the cancelation of the Mistral deal, the Navy does not yet to have a genuine, highly specialized helicopter carrier that can take advantage of all of the Katran’s features.
However, amid testing on the Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, there is a chance that the Katran will become the Navy’s universal attack chopper.
Moreover, with the Navy confirming earlier this year that it expects to receive two new helicopter-carrying amphibious assault ships before 2025, analysts believe the design most likely to be built is the Priboy-class, a next-gen amphibious assault ship which analysts consider superior to the Mistral. In addition to up to 500 marines and 50 pieces of armor, Priboy-class ships will be able to to carry up to 15 Ka-29 assault transports, Ka-27 anti-sub warfare choppers, and Ka-52K assault helicopters, thus ensuring the unique Katran design a stable future.