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Eleven New MI-17 Hip Helicopters for Ukraine Coming From US

by Guy McCardle Apr 25, 2022
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Mi-17 helicopters with the Afghan Air Force's 2nd Wing at Multinational Base Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan.  US Army photo, Gina Great.
Mi-17 helicopters with the Afghan Air Force's 2nd Wing at Multinational Base Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan. US Army photo, Gina Great.

Hips Are on the Way

It’s been a little over one week since the US announced the most recent security package approved for Ukraine. It totals over $800 million in military aid aimed at helping the Ukrainians in their ongoing fight against Russian aggression.

This latest round of assistance includes eighteen 155 Howitzers (and 40,000 rounds of ammunition), AN/TPQ-36 counter artillery radar, and AN/MPQ-64 air surveillance systems.

To get troops and supplies from point A to point B, we’re sending over a hundred armored Humvees, 200 M113 armored personnel carriers (APC), and 11 Mi-17 helicopters. The NATO reporting name for these particular rotary winged aircraft is “Hip.” These additional Mi-17s will augment the five we sent them earlier this year.

Mi-17s are being sent to Ukraine from Mexico as well as the US. Image Credit: mil.in.ua

Not Made in America

At this point, you may have noticed something. These are not American-made helicopters. Part of being a young soldier in the cold war days was learning to identify Soviet aircraft and tanks from NATO aircraft and tanks. It’s not very hard if you know what you are looking for. Soviet-designed equipment tends to be more rounded. Helicopters are particularly easy to identify: They look like oversized VW busses with multiple porthole windows, fixed, wheeled landing gear (instead of skids), and an odd number of rotor blades. The Mi-17 (as shown above) checks all of those boxes.

You may be thinking: “Guy, why are we here in ‘Murica sending the Ukrainians Soviet-designed and Rooskie built aircraft?” That’s a good question. The answer is: “Because we have some, and they already know how to fly them.” 

So, how and why did we end up with a bunch of Russian helicopters? The answer to that is simple; we bought them (from a Russian state-owned arms exporter) to give to the Afghan armed forces during our 20-year effort in that country. But, for whatever reason I’m not privy to, we didn’t give them all out.

When we purchased them, certain lawmakers were infuriated that we did not choose an American manufacturer. But, the aircraft worked well in the Afghan environment, were relatively inexpensive, and the Afghan pilots already knew how to fly them.

Fun Fact: US Army Special Forces in Afghanistan extensively used CIA-operated Mi-17s during the initial stages of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The helicopters are headed to Ukraine at a crucial time for their military. They often find themselves outmanned and outgunned as the Russians are attacking harder and harder in the country’s east and south. Mi-17 are personnel transport aircraft capable of carrying 24 individuals. They can be fitted with rockets and cannons, allowing them to function in an attack role or provide close air support to troops on the ground.

More good info on this latest shipment of military aid to Ukraine. Video courtesy of YouTube and our friends at Crux.

The Particulars

Country of Origin: Soviet Union

Date first in Service: 1981

Crew: 3

Passengers: 24 troops

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Length: 25.35 m

Main Rotor Diameter: 21.29 m

Height: 4.76 m

Weight (equipped): 7.1 t

Weight (maximum takeoff): 13 t

Engines: 2 x Klimov TV3-117MT turboshafts

Max Speed: 250 km/h

Service Ceiling: 4.5 – 6 km

Range: 495 km

Payload capacity (internal): 4 t

Payload capacity (external): 3 t

Armament: 7.62 mm and 12.7 mm trainable machine guns, 9M17P Skorpion, 9M114 Shturm, and 9M120 Vikhr anti-tank missiles plus Igla-V air to air missiles and pods with 57 mm and 80 mm unguided rockets in addition to 250 kg free-fall bombs.

The design of the M-17 goes back to 1981 and with the exception of upgrades to more powerful engines and some other tweaks, this bird pretty much has the same feathers it was first made in.  Now in Afghanistan, these helicopters had a pretty permissive environment to operate in and their lift capability at high altitudes and in hot weather was very useful. The insurgents in Afghanistan didn’t have shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles or AAA in large calibers.  Ukraine is not a permissible environment however and both sides have large caliber AAA guns, man-portable anti-aircraft missiles, and large surface-to-air missiles at their disposal.  Russian helicopters have suffered significant losses in the war so far and these 17 Hips being sent to Ukraine won’t last long without some upgrades like the Bird Aerosystems Airborne Missile Protection Systems that the Czechs installed in their Mi-17s.  They should also receive night vision capabilities, GPS navigation gear, modern radios, upgraded cockpit displays, laser range finders for firing unguided rockets, and armor plating protection for the crew and passengers if they want to be in the skies for very long.

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