AH-2 Sabre. Photo courtesy of the Brazil Air Force
Brazil bought 12 Russian heavy assault gunship helicopters that are dramatically changing its operations, surveillance and air space control methods over the Amazonia. AH-2 Sabre is the military designation used by the Brazilian Air Force of the Mi-35M that is equipped with Israeli-developed avionics to better attend Brazilian requirements to operate in a forest region with high temperatures, high humidity, cargo deployment needs and that must fly in continuous night missions. They are in service with the Poti Squadron.
The Poti Squadron is the second squadron in the eighth aviation group of the Brazilian Air Force. This group was created in 1980 and is located at the Recife Air Force Base, operating the Eurocopter Ecureuil, designated as H-50 Squirrel. The squadron trained many military helicopters pilots in missions such as combat, attack, troop infiltration and exfiltration, search and rescue, and other missions of combat support operational task. After almost 30 years operating in the Northeast of the country, the squadron retired its H-50 Squirrel, received the AH-2 Sabre and moved to the opposite side of Brazil. Nowadays Poti is based at Porto Velho Air Force Base in the western Amazonia region, near Bolivia’s northern border.
When Brazil incorporated AH-2 Sabre in its military fleet, it became one of the few Latin Americans countries to employ the service of a dedicated armed helicopter with the primary attack role with the capability of engaging targets on the ground, such as enemy armored fighting vehicles and infantry troops. Mexican and Venezuelan Armies have similar Mi-35Ms though with standard avionics. There is no official information published by the Brazilian government regarding the total amount spent in this defense contract, but it is estimated that each unit has cost around $15 million to the country.
Onboard systems of the Mi-35M Brazilian version that upgraded the original platform to perform all specific requirements includes reduced weight components and new avionics as digital glass cockpit for each crew member, radar warning receiver, laser rangefinder and the OPS-24N night-vision system with thermal imaging. There is also an integrated infrared suppression system at the engine exhaust vents, a cockpit armoring for crew and most important systems protection, an ultra-modernized weapons system, an infrared jamming system and a chaff-flare dispenser.
The flexibility of the AH-2 allows it to be used as cargo for ferry with load capability of 1.5 tons in the cabin that is set under the engines and main rotor. This cabin space can also be used to carry up to eight fully-equipped combat troops. There is a sling system that takes an extra 2.4 tons externally, which is extremely important to increase cargo deployment capability in the Amazonia region. Beyond these roles, it can serve in MEDEVAC roles, which allows the helicopter to be used with a social purpose to support Amazonian communities.
The Social Communication Center of the Brazilian Air Force, CECOMSAER, released last month that for the first time since the AH-2 went into operation in Brazil it was launched with maximum military capacity for training. In the Zarabatana VII Operational Exercise, two helicopters launched simultaneously two 9M120 Ataka missiles, and 40 S-8 80-mm unguided rockets were launched at the same time from each aircraft.
“For the first time we explored full employment capacity of the AH-2 Sabre. We followed all operational safety procedures, technical manuals of the helicopter and Brazilian Air Force doctrine,” said Lt. Col. Pedro Henrique Cavalcanti de Almeida, commander of the Poti Squadron.
The AH-2 is operating in conjunction with other aircraft in the Brazilian military fleet, including S-70 Pave Hawks and fixed-wing platforms such as EMB-314, Embraer Super Tucano and EMB-145 AEW&C - Airborne Early Warning and Control, P-99 and R-99. All these aircraft-coordinated operations are changing the course of the National Defense Policy in the Brazilian Amazonia. Long border lines with Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia are now under strong control. As the region is a prime location for international terrorists and drug traffickers, the Armed Forces Operations has been implemented in coordination with the Federal Police Dept. actions that are resulting in relevant decrease of suspect not controlled flights as the actions of criminals in this part of the country. The use of AH-2 Sabre has been determinative for these achievements.