According to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, the Iraqi Armed Forces have received the last of 40 Mi-28NE dedicated attack helicopters from Russia.
The Mi-28NE is among Russia’s latest attack helicopter offerings. Designed with anti-armour missions in mind, the Mi-28NE has been playing a major role in Russia’s counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Syria. Iraq joins Russia, Algeria and Kenya as a known Mi-28NE operator.
Iraq ordered 40 Mi-28NE as part of a $4.3 billion U.S. agreement (including a large trove of other big-ticket weapons) in 2012. The first Iraqi Mi-28NEs were delivered in 2013. The helicopters have since taken part in a series of COIN operations in Iraq, including the recent operation to recapture Fallujah from ISIS.
Comment and Analysis
Over the past 5 years, Iraq has managed to rebuild the foundations of its armed forces, and it is currently on track to inducting relatively large numbers of big-ticket items, such as the Mi-28NE as well as F-16C/D Block-52+. The U.S. is also providing $2.7 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) loans to Iraq, which will help the Iraqi Armed Forces in maintaining and arming their U.S.-origin tanks (i.e. M1A1) and F-16s.
Although armaments have been procured, the underlying nature of the Iraqi forces has changed considerably since the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike the legacy Iraqi military, which was focused on addressing external state-level threats (e.g. Iran), the current Iraqi military is a counterinsurgency (COIN)-oriented entity, albeit a strong one considering it is even equipped with Chinese CH-4 armed drones.
While COIN is the order of the day given the condition of the region, but Iraq – alongside Jordan – seem to be dedicated on COIN above all else, including the role of a traditional military.
Should the issue of ISIS et.al come to pass, it will be worth seeing if the Iraqi Armed Forces pivot to a more traditional focus. In such a scenario, it is likely that Russia would play a key role and position the MiG-35 and Su-35 (as well as a range of air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions). On the other hand, the current state of the oil market and the resultant financial bind affecting Iraq could be a long-term issue Baghdad will need to be watchful for should it take such a route.
As for the Mi-28NE, it is becoming a popular export for the Russians. In fact, the Mi-28NE is even drawing interest from the Pakistan Army, which is not a traditional buyer of Russian arms. At present, the Mi-28NE is essentially the only available alternative to the AH-64 Apache in the heavyweight attack helicopter class (Ka-52 notwithstanding). Unfortunately, Russia’s economic troubles prohibit Moscow from offering much (if anything) in terms of upfront credit or loans to help finance its exports, particularly with developing world countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, etc.