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Russia's 'Night Hunter': from maiden flight to fighting ISIS

Mi-28N, one of Russia’s most renowned helicopters, made its first flight 20 years ago

Russia’s Mil Mi-28N “Night Hunter” (NATO reporting name: Havoc or Havoc-B) attack helicopter took to the skies for the first time on November 14, 1996. Nineteen years later, the attack helicopter joined the Russian air task force in Syria, which is fighting militants of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra organizations (outlawed in Russia) on the invitation of Syrian authorities.

In particular, the Russian Defense Ministry posted a video on its official channel in the YouTube, showing a Night Hunter helicopter destroying terrorists’ armor.

Russia is currently developing the helicopter’s new modification, Mi-28NM, taking into account the Syrian experience. As Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said, “this is one of the examples of upgrading the family of Mi-28 army aviation helicopters based on the results of their combat operation in the Syrian conflict.”

'Russia's attack helicopters Mi-28N Night Hunter used against militants in Palmyra'


History of the helicopter’s development

The new helicopter’s development began back in the 1970s. Two design bureaus, the Mil and the Kamov, were concurrently developing new types of rotocraft in the conditions of creative competition. These machines were subsequently called Mi-28 and Ka-50.

The helicopter developed by the Mil Design Bureau became a prototype of the current Night Hunter. The trials of the Mi-28 prototypes were held from 1982 to 1987 and in 1985 the helicopter’s modernized version, the Mi-28A, joined the tests.

In 1993, the production of the pre-serial batch of Mi-28A helicopters was expected to begin but military commanders made a decision to focus immediately on developing the helicopter’s improved round-the-clock and all-weather version.

The Mi-28’s new version had been developed by August 1996. It received the letter “N” in its code and acquired its present-day outlook, became an all-weather and all-seeing machine and learnt to fly at extremely low altitudes and follow terrain features. The Mi-28N has been serial-produced since 2006 at Rostvertol, a helicopter-manufacturing company integrated into Russian Helicopters Group. However, the Mi-28N was officially accepted by Russia’s Defense Ministry for service only on December 27, 2013.

A Russian Mi-28 helicopter patrols the area around Hmeimym airbase in Syria EPA/SERGEI CHIRIKOV
A Russian Mi-28 helicopter patrols the area around Hmeimym airbase in Syria

Origin of the helicopter’s name

It is not accidental that the Mi-28N was dubbed the Night Hunter: it is fitted out with a Tor optoelectronic target sight system with a thermal imager and a laser rangefinder that allow the helicopter to see targets at a distance of up to 10 kilometers in total darkness. Helicopter pilots also use a surveillance and flight system with night vision goggles.


Helicopter’s armament

The helicopter’s external ejector racks can carry up to 16 antitank guided supersonic missiles of Ataka-V or Shturm-V systems or blocks of aircraft-launched rockets.

At the front, the helicopter is armed with a 30mm non-detachable mobile gun. External fuel tanks and even bombs in containers can be attached to the Mi-28N but most frequently these helicopters carry antitank guided missiles and aircraft-launched rockets.


Helicopter’s armor

Pilots are reliably protected from gunfire and shell fragments in the Mi-28N’s armored cabin: the helicopter’s armored glass can withstand the direct impact of 12.7mm machinegun bullets while the cabin’s metal armor is resistant to shells of a 20mm cannon. Besides, the crew stays in compartments separated by an armored partition: first comes the seat of a navigator-operator while the seat of a pilot is located behind and slightly above.

The Mi-28N is provided with a passive safety system: a landing gear multistage shock absorber strut and seats with a system of impact blow absorption, if a helicopter falls (ejection seats are available only aboard two helicopters: Ka-50 and Ka-52).

First upgraded Mil Mi-28N attack helicopter prepares to perform a test flight  Dmitry Serebryakov/TASS
First upgraded Mil Mi-28N attack helicopter prepares to perform a test flight
© Dmitry Serebryakov/TASS

Prospects for the use of Night Hunter helicopters

A modernized version of the Night Hunter, the Mi-28NM, which is expected to feature enhanced capabilities compared to its predecessor, took to the skies in the summer of 2016.

For example, the helicopter will be able to use precision weapons and will get a new control system.

The upgraded version will also be capable of operating in a “combined flight formation” and promptly interacting with other aircraft, helicopters and drones over the battlefield.

Also, a radar station will be mounted above the rotor on the helicopter’s new version (in the spherical fairing directly above the axis of the helicopter’s rotor).

Video footage of the first flight by the upgraded Night Hunter


Mi-28NM helicopters are capable of interacting in a single information environment, including with unmanned aerial vehicles. The ideology of a single information field on the battlefield should be implemented
Yevgeny Poluyanov
Chief of the Mil Design Bureau’s Military Output Acceptance Office


The Mi-28NM will be equipped with new engines, an auxiliary power unit and new blades made of composite materials. As an important practical change for pilots, the helicopter has the so-called dual control when a navigator can assume control of the rotocraft, if a pilot is wounded or killed. Current Mi-28N helicopters do not have this system.


There is also a wide choice of rocket armament. This helicopter will feature the possibility of using bombing armament. It is armed with the advanced defensive system: it can generate disturbances with a laser and decoy flares and also features a jamming station
Yevgeny Poluyanov
Bureau’s Military Output Acceptance Office


The first Mi-28UB helicopters with dual control will start arriving for the Russian Armed Forces already from 2017. They will become a sort of an intermediate version between Mi-28N and Mi-28NM helicopters.

Russian helicopter designers take into account the entire experience accumulated during the use of rotocraft in present-day local armed conflicts when they modernize and develop new types of military hardware.


The (Mil) Design Bureau has very extensive experience of promptly responding to the use of its rotocraft in some new conditions, including theaters of operations
Yevgeny Poluyanov
Chief of the Mil Design Bureau’s Military Output Acceptance Office