Brazilian Air Force withdraws the entire fleet of Mi-35M helicopters amid rumours of U.S. pressure

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, portal publishing news and current affairs. He holds an M.B.A in International Business from the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.

On March 1, after 12 years of service, a short combat career for the Mi-35M helicopters in the Brazilian Air Force will end. On February 2, a write up in the Brazilian Bulletin of the Aeronautics Command says that the entire fleet of Mi-35M helicopters, with the local designation AH-2 Saber, will be withdrawn from the service this year. 

The winding down procedure will begin on March 1 and end on December 31. Brazil purchased 12 Mi-35Ms from the  Russian Helicopters Holding (part of the Rostec State Corporation), which in 2010 were officially deployed at the Porto Velho airbase as part of a separate squadron, now to be disbanded. By 2020, the helicopters had flown more than 8,000 hours; about 6 hours per helicopter per month.

Procurement

The Brazilian Air Force had sent AgustaWestland, Eurocopter and Rosoboronexport a technical requirement for the supply of attack and transport helicopters in the fall of 2007. Brazil planned to purchase 10-12 helicopters of each category. Applicants submitted their responses by October 15, 2007. Agusta Westland offered the A-129 Mangusta as an attack helicopter. Eurocopter submitted the EC 665 Tiger to the competition, and Rosoboronexport submitted the Mi-35M.

The finalists in the competition were the Russian Mi-35M, with an estimated cost of about $ 14 million per unit and the Italian A-129 Mangusta worth $ 18 million per unit. In the final evaluation, the Brazilian Air Force preferred the Russian helicopter.

The helicopters were operated by the 2nd 8th CLA, Poti Squadron.

Official reason

The short combat tenure is due to various reasons, as per Spanish language publications. The most pressing reason for its decommissioning is Mi-35 M’s high operating costs, cumbersome logistics and lack of manufacturer support.

Brazil faced numerous disputes with the manufacturer, and the helicopter was often idle due to failures in its maintenance. It led to the transfer of helicopters from Porto Velho to production facilities in Belo Horizonte over more than 3 thousand km. Difficulties also arose with the adaptation of equipment to the U.S. military standard.

The Brazilian Air Force is now focused on the triad of Swedish fighter aircraft Gripen, Brazilian military transport aircraft KC-390 and the upgraded Brazilian E-99M AWACS aircraft Echo-99. The resource allocation to the priority projects led to immediately withdrawing the Mi-35M from the Air Force.

However, in 2018, the commander of the 8th squadron, Rómulo Amaral, in an interview with the Russian Helicopters magazine had praised the high reliability of Russian Mi-35M helicopters and their readiness to perform tasks even in difficult weather conditions.

“The adaptation of the Russian helicopters to the conditions of the Amazon was carried out successfully, and despite the climatic differences of Brazil, the adaptation was minimal. The helicopter proved to be really reliable: this is the most important feature of an aircraft created to carry out combat operations. The Amazon region allows the rotary-wing vehicle to show its versatility to the fullest due to the fact that it does not require a prepared runway: it can land on any hard surface, on remote areas, with minimal ground infrastructure and regardless of weather conditions, providing constant combat coverage,” said Rómulo Amaral.

As per Rómulo, the helicopters participated in large events. The capabilities of Mi-35M were confirmed during the Rio+20 conference, Confederations Cup in 2013, Soccer World Cup in 2014, Olympic Games in 2016 and the “Ostium” operation ‘Operação Ostium’ in 2017.

Unofficial reasons

At the same time, Spanish website Infodefensa reports rumours that the write-off of helicopters was due to pressure exerted by the United States. 

Mi-35M repair deal

The Russian Helicopters and Brazil’s Industria de Aviacao e Servisos (IAS), a company authorized by the Brazilian air force, signed a deal for the repairs of the helicopters in November – December 2020. According to the contracts, the Russian Helicopters Holding would provide repair kits for the units to be repaired in Brazil, supply several new components, and repair part of the units in Russia. In addition, the specialists of the Mil and Kamov helicopters will carry out individual repairs of Mi-35M helicopters.

Mi-35M

The Russian Mi-35M is an export version of the Mi-24 multipurpose attack helicopter developed by the Mil Design Bureau. The helicopter is equipped with two boosted turboshaft engines TV3-117VMA, a new rotor system with blades made of composite materials.

The helicopter is armed with the 9K113K Shturm-V guided weapon system, which allows it to carry 9M120 Ataka anti-tank missiles, an 80-mm S-8 missile and a 240-mm S-24 missile. A double-barreled 23-mm gun GSh-23 is installed in the bow. The Mi-35M can also carry a 12.7mm or 7.62mm machine gun, a 30mm grenade launcher, bomb and mine load on pylons.

The Mi-35M is the only universal combat helicopter globally that is combat capable and yet transport eight-armed servicemen. It can carry up to 1500 kg of ammunition or other cargo inside the cabin and up to 2400 kg of external suspension load, evacuate the wounded, and deliver technical personnel to remote base sites. The 24 hours a day and all-weather combat use of the helicopter provides the possibility of carrying out combat missions for air support of the units of the ground forces at any time of the day and in all weather conditions.

The helicopter is distinguished by high-altitude characteristics with the possibility of taking off and landing on concrete and land sites located at altitudes up to 4000 m above sea level. In addition, the successful design solutions used in the Mi-35 allow the Russian helicopter to be used in a wide range of physical, geographical and climatic conditions, including in the mountains, at temperatures from -50°C to +50°C.

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