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Is Pakistan in talks for more Mi-35 assault helicopters from Russia?
September 20, 2019
A Brazilian Mi-35. Photo credit: Russian Helicopters

Is Pakistan in talks for more Mi-35 assault helicopters from Russia?

Rana Tanveer Hussain, the Minister of Defence Production, told Pakistani media outlets that a deal for Mi-35 helicopters would be finalized in “two months.”

Pakistan ordered an initial batch of four Mi-35s from Russia in August. IHS Jane’s learned that the Pakistan Army intended to acquire up to 20 Mi-35s.

It is unclear if Mr. Hussian is referring to the batch that should have already been in the pipeline, or a different order, but it is likely the latter considering that talks were involved.

The Mi-35 is an upgraded variant of the Mi-24 Hind. Like its predecessor, it is capable of carrying a large munitions payload as well as personnel. With its armour, it makes for a capable hot-zone entry and exit platform. Its commonality with the Mi-17/171, which the Pakistan Army operates in numbers, makes it relatively easy and affordable to maintain and operate as well.

Comment and Analysis

The Pakistan Army is looking to revamp its attack helicopter fleet over the next few years. In addition to the Mi-35s, it has 15 AH-1Z Viper dedicated attack helicopters on order from the U.S. It is evaluating the CAIC Z-10 attack helicopters, and it is reportedly in talks with Russia for its flagship Mi-28NE Night Hunter.

In Pakistan’s case, fleet standardization and building a domestic support base ought to be critical. For one thing, Army Aviation will essentially be the leading factor in providing the Army’s ground forces with close air support (CAS) coverage; the Pakistan Air Force will likely not play a leading role in that department. As such, a large number of capable and durable dedicated attack helicopters will be necessary.

Besides the AH-1Z, it is unclear exactly which route the Pakistan Army will take, though it seems to be positive about the Z-10 considering the helicopter was displayed during the Pakistan Day parade on 23 March. When one considers aspects such as availability, cost and supplier flexibility (in terms of selling maintenance, repair and overhaul as well as spare-parts manufacturing facilities), it would seem that the Z-10 should have the lead. However, the Army’s decision is still not final.

As for the Mi-35, while capable of attack, the Army may be positioning it more as an air assault asset as opposed to an attack system. In other words, it is unlikely that one would see the large Mi-35 be used in the high anti-air warfare (AAW) threat environments of state-to-state warfare. Rather, the Army is likely interested in using the Mi-35 in lieu or in conjunction with its Mi-17 in infantry insertion and extraction scenarios in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.