There's No Escaping These Pack-Hunting Soviet Assault Choppers

Sure the MI-24 Hind packs a wallop, but it's big, heavy, and cumbersome to fly. So, to penetrate enemy territory, Russia designed and built the agile and deadly Black Shark assault chopper. All it's missing is a frickin' laser.

The Kamov Ka-50 "Black Shark" grew out of the Soviet V-80Sh-1 project in the late 1980s as a single-seat attack helicopter. The unique design—attack choppers usually have a two-man crew, a pilot and a gunner—is the work of the the Kamov design bureau, which has produced dozens of rotorcraft designs since the 1920s. By 1990, the helicopter began production in 1990 and, by 1995, had entered service in the Russian Army which utilizes it as a heavily-armed scout helicopter.

Lacking the bulk and weight of the larger HINDs heavy armor, the Ka-50 relies primarily on its small stature, agility, and speed to survive enemy encounters. Measuring 52 feet long and 16 feet tall, the Black Shark weighs just 21,000 pounds when fully loaded with fuel and weapons. A pair of Klimov TV3-117VK 2,200 shp turboshafts power the helicopter's trademark double 3-blade rotors and provide the aircraft with a top speed of 196 mph and a range of about 340 miles.

That's not to say the Black Shark will run from a fight—quite the opposite actually—this assault helicopter is bristling with weapons. In addition to its nose-mounted 2A42 30-mm auto-cannon (replete with 460 HE, incendiary, and armor-piercing rounds), the Ka-50 can carry up to 2,000 pounds of ordnance on its four wing-stub hardpoints. These can include almost any combination of 80 S-8 or 20 S-13 rockets; 12 laser-guided Vikhr anti-tank (as well as other air-to-air or air-to-ground) missiles; and up to four 550-pound bombs. Plus the pod at the tip of each wing-stub dispenses chaff, flares, and other countermeasures.

To get around the difficulties of simultaneously flying and fighting, Black Sharks will often hunt in packs of four, sharing fire control data among themselves as well as forward operating ground troops. This allows one Ka-50 to engage enemies spotted by another, lending well to ambush and asymmetric tactics that further improve the group's ability to survive.

During the late 1990s, Kamov updated the Ka-50 design, adding a second tandem seat and naming the new model the Ka-52 "Alligator." An experimental Alligator prototype, the Ka-52k, fell out of the sky on Wednesday, landing in a residential Moscow neighborhood. While the two pilots were able to bail out safely, the prototype was a total loss. Russia's Defense Ministry is currently examining the aircraft's black box to figure out why the helicopter failed. [English Russia - Wiki - RT - Image: Dmitry Pichugin]