Military

Azerbaijan Marks 100 Years With Air Force Sky Parade

By Carlo Kuit, Paul Kievit | October 25, 2018
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Azerbaijan Air Force centennial parade

As of May 14, 2018, preparations started for the Centennial Parade to be held over Baku City June 26, 2018. A total of 43 helicopters took to the sky to perform mass formation exercises during the Authors visit to Quala. Photo courtesy of Bronco Aviation

On June 26, both Azerbaijan and its air force celebrated their 100th birthdays. Now the largest air force in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan’s air service is looking forward to modernize its aging fleet of Soviet-era rotorcraft.

The majority of its helicopter force consists of a number of Hind variants: Mi-24V/P, Mi-35M and Mi-24G Super Hinds. The fleet of Mi-17-1V Hip-H doubles as a light attack and assault platform next to the more common task of troop transport.

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Each Mi-17-1V can be equipped with a variety of weapon systems: the Lahat (Skybow), an advanced lightweight laser homing missile that is highly effective against a variety of target types, including ground targets, ships and helicopters at ranges up to 8 km. The Lahat can hit static or moving targets, including moving helicopters with pinpoint accuracy. It is built by IAI in Israel and has been in use with the Azerbaijan Air Force for two years and supported by Elbit during its introduction.

Azerbaijan was the first export customer for this system. It is solely used by the Mi-17s, unlike the Baryer system, which can be interchanged between the Mi-17 and Mi-24V fleets. The Spike extended range missile system was introduced simultaneously.

In March 2018, a fifth squadron — this one a special operations unit — became operational with the Bell 412. A total of three of this type were acquired in 2016 from Canada.

In January 2018, a number of pilots were trained over a two-month period in a “train-the-trainer” concept. Other than the three Bell 412s, a Bell 401 and MD 530 also were acquired, all sporting black colors. “Both types are currently not operational as pilots have not been trained yet,” according to Maj. Zaur Agayev, one of the pilots of the special operations squadron. Agayev graduated from the Turkish air force academy and will be one of the instructor pilots within the fifth squadron. Another pilot is in Pakistan to become an instructor pilot for the Bell 412.

The Mi-24V fleet was upgraded in the second quarter of 2003. Currently about nine Mi-24Vs are operational. An additional nine were upgraded in 2013 to Mi-24G Super Hind standard.

The upgrade program was done in cooperation with South African company Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE) with Ukrainian companies Aviakon and Luch design bureau from Kiev. The Azerbaijani Mi-24G is largely based on the ATE’s Super Hind Mk4.

The most striking differences are the redesigned nose and cockpit, which contribute to weight reduction and improved sight from the cockpit. The mission equipment is lighter in weight and offers night-vision goggle capabilities. Cockpit equipment includes two multirole 6-inch-by-8-inch flight control and data displays and a Doppler GPS system.

The Denel compact gyro-stabilized multisensor surveillance and targeting system provides night and all-weather flight capabilities. The Baryer anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) system developed by Luchcan can be fired from both the Mi-24G and Mi-24V.

The Azerbaijan Air Force was the first export customer of the Baryer. The Super Hind’s weapons package also includes GI-2 Vector chin-mounted dual-feed automatic canon, which can be aimed using the FLIR/TV sight, the helmet-mounted sight or the head up display (HUD).

The upgrade still allows using S-8 58-mm unguided rockets. The nine Mi-24Gs have been in service since 2014, but has been awaiting maintenance since 2017.

In 2014, Paramount Group signed a joint venture agreement with Azerbaijan’s AirTechServices Corporation to form Paramount Aerospace Azerbaijan, which offers manufacturing capabilities for the modernization and enhancement of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The joint venture is expected to lead the maintenance on the Mi-24G fleet.

The mainstay of the Hind fleet is the Mi-35M, of which 24 were supposed to be acquired in 2010. Deliveries were completed by January 2014. During a media visit in May 2018, Mi-35s were noted at Kala Air Base. The aircraft are equipped with night-vision goggles, a turret-mounted IRTV-445MGH infrared TV thermal imaging system and new countermeasures equipment.

The weapons package includes 9K114 Shturm-V (AT-6 Spiral) anti-tank missiles, 80-mm S-8 and 240-mm S-24 unguided rockets, as well as either a single 12.7-mm 9-A-629 machine gun or two 7.62-mm 9-A-622 machine guns/one 30-mm 9-A-800 grenade launcher. In addition, they can operate with 50 kg (110 lb) to 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs.

The Mi-35M has a number of improvements compared to the legacy Mi-24V. The main rotor system is of the Mi-28 and has an X-shaped tail rotor. The main rotor's fiberglass blades have a new aerodynamic profile. The Mi-35M also has upgraded turboshaft engines, and stub wings were shortened in order to further reduce weight.

The Mi-35M is fitted with upgraded avionics and improved sensor package, including a night-vision system. New compared to the Mi-24V are an electro-optical rangefinder/targeting systems with thermal imaging guidance channel, satellite positioning and navigation system, electronic multifunction displays, onboard computer and new generation jam-proof communications equipment. The aircraft can deliver eight Ataka-V or Shturm-V anti-tank missiles and Igla-V air-to-air missiles, unguided rockets (S8) or bombs. The nose turret is fitted with a GSh-231 23-mm twin-barrel cannon.

The landing gear of the Mi-35M is no longer retractable. This reduced overall weight. As one of the Mi-24 pilots stated, “The Mi-35 is like a bear — heavy so we try to keep the material light we carry with us.”

Kala Base Commander concluded, “Our focus is now to have two Mi-17-1s compatible with the NATO Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC). We hope to join a NATO initiated exercise in 2019 in order to have the opportunity to gain experience, see what we are worth and share our knowledge."

Lt. Gen. Tahirov, deputy minister of defense and commander of the Azeri Air Force, said the country has advertised interest in the TAI T-129, but does not have a timeline for procuring the attack aircraft.

“Currently, the Turkish Armed Forces is fulfilling their own requirements before they will start producing the ATAK for foreign countries,” he said in an interview. “The idea is the ATAK will both replace existing airframes and be added to existing squadrons at Kala.”

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