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Three Years Since Starting the Ka-52M Helicopter Modernization Program russia Announced the Results

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Ka-52M prototype for testing / Open source photo
Ka-52M prototype for testing / Open source photo

However, it's still unknown whether the upgraded attack helicopters are already used against Ukraine

Some units of the russian army have started receiving the first modernized Ka-52M attack helicopters, as can be seen by the photos published by russian military bloggers which may have been taken in the Ukrainian warzone, meaning that the new rotorcraft might have already joined the war in Ukraine.

Even if the new helicopter was shown off only for display, the potential threat it poses to the Ukrainian Armed Forces should not be underestimated. That is why Defense Express analyzed the capabilities of this combat rotorcraft, with reference to Piotr Butowski and his article for The Drive in which he highlighted this episode.

Read more: The case for ATACMS: russians Have Shown in Video Ka-52 Taking Off From Airfield Near Berdiansk to Strike at Ukraine's Troops
ordinary Ka-52 of the russian invasion forces in Ukraine
Illustrative photo: ordinary Ka-52 of the russian invasion forces in Ukraine / Open source photo

The author says, formally the contract for the modernization of Ka-52 helicopters labeled as Avangard-4 was issued in April 2019. However, by that time most of the equipment and weapons for the Ka-52M had been almost ready. Reforging the first two Ka-52 helicopters into their new version started in June 2020, and the complete Ka-52M took off for the first time on August 10th same year.

But there is inconsistency in Butowski's statements: first, he claims the Ka-52M should have been ready for mass production by September 2022, then based on russian defense minister Shoigu's words assumes there might be up to 30 modernized helicopters delivered to the army by now.

The first public appearance of the Ka-52M was at the russian MAKS-2021 air show which revealed the main features of the modernization. The LMUR guided missile was added to the new helicopter's arsenal and some key systems were replaced with upgraded ones, including the GOES-451M electro-optical targeting system, SUO-806PM fire control system, and the BKS-50M communication suite.

Ka-52M prototype with LMUR missiles
Ka-52M prototype with LMUR missiles / Open source photo

Besides all that, the Ka-52M received blades with an improved engine preheater, more durable landing gear, external LEDs illumination and allegedly improved ergonomics inside the pilots' cockpit, although the author does not specify whether the issue with the emergency catapult had been resolved. As a reminder, the Ka-52 uses a unique crew ejection system that only releases pilots after the rotor blades and windshields are ejected.

At the same time, the in-flight performance of the Ka-52M is basically the same as the original: speed 200 km/h (124 mph), combat radius 400 km (~250 miles).

Diving deeper into the specifics of upgraded avionics, for example, the modernized GOES-451M targeting system that features thermal and television cameras, a two-in-one laser rangefinder and target designator, as well as the laser spot tracker used for launching Vikhr guided missiles.

The russians claim the GOES-451M can detect a target within a 12 km range with the TV camera or 15 km with the thermal imager. But how effective it will be if Ka-52 sees agricultural combines as enemy tanks, is yet an open question.

Ukrainian farming combines on a display of a russian Ka-52
Ukrainian farming combines on a display of a russian Ka-52 / Open source illustrative photo

That aside, the Ka-52M also received a new electronic warfare and missile countermeasure system. Now the L418 Monoblock is installed on this aircraft, earlier this self-defense suite was featured in Ka-52E helicopters they sold to Egypt.

cockpit of a Ka-52M
The cockpit of a Ka-52M presented at Dubai Airshow 2021 / Photo credits: The Drive, Wikimedia Commons

The designers of the Ka-52M also decided to add another radar station to this helicopter, the B006 Rezets made by St. Petersburg-based Zaslon company (also made the B004 radar for the Su-34 bomber). Interestingly, the B006 Rezets is air-cooled. According to the russians themselves, this radar is able to "see" a "tank-class" target from about 30 km away, or a "fighter aircraft-class" target from approximately 40 km.

Ka-52 at a helicopter base during the russo-Ukrainian war
Illustrative photo: Ka-52 at a helicopter base during the russo-Ukrainian war / Open source photo
Read more: How russians Changed the Tactics of Using Ka-52 After Losing at Least 20% of Such Helicopters