The Mil Mi-24 Hind has been in service in the Soviet Union since 1970.
This Mil Mi-24 "Hind-D" Soviet heavy attack helicopter is on display at the Imperial Museum in Duxford, England. Over 1,000 of these aircraft have been produced, seeing service with the armies of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Cuba, India, Iraq, Libya, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North Korea, Peru, South Yemen, and Vietnam.
Mi-24 Hind "Krokodil"The Bell UH-1 Huey is the helicopter most identified with the Vietnam War. The helicopter most identified with the war in Afghanistan, which raged from 1979 until 1988, is the Russian Mil Mi-24 Hind. Nearly two dozen armies around the world currently operate the Hind. No helicopter in the West is identical to the Hind in form or function.
The Soviets studied the American experience in Vietnam closely. The U.S. Army had chosen to use helicopters to ferry large numbers of troops into battle and also to serve as aerial gun platforms. General Designer Mikhail Leontyevich Mil, who headed a Soviet design bureau, first proposed a "flying infantry fighting vehicle" in the mid-1960s, building a full-scale mockup of a helicopter designated the V-24. Unlike American helicopters, Mil's design would carry both weapons and troops, combining functions that the Americans had kept separate. Mil received permission to develop a prototype in 1967.
The first prototype was produced in 1969. It had a five-bladed main rotor and a three-bladed tail rotor. It had two engines and a relatively slender fuselage with retractable tricycle landing gear. The helicopter also had two small stub wings on either side of the fuselage that increased lift in forward flight and could mount rocket pods or missiles. The crew sat in tandem under a greenhouse-like canopy, with the pilot behind and slightly to the left of the Weapons Systems Officer (or WSO). A machine gun was mounted in a turret on the chin of the helicopter. Up to eight fully armed troops could sit back to back in the main cabin. The cockpit, cabin, and engine coverings were all armored.
The first Mi-24s were delivered to the Soviet Air Force in 1970. NATO did not learn about the helicopter until 1972, when it gave it the codename "Hind" (all NATO codenames for Soviet helicopters started with the letter "H"). Despite the name, Soviet aircrews always called the helicopter the "krokodil" or "crocodile."
Cockpit visibility for the early Hinds was extremely bad, forcing Mil to redesign the cockpit so both the pilot and WSO sat under individual bubble canopies. This gave the Hind a prehistoric appearance. Over the next several years, more modifications were made, such as replacing the nose-mounted machine gun with a cannon and adding sensors. Still, by Western standards, the Hind has a poor set of navigation and electronics instruments.
During the Cold War, U.S. helicopter pilots encountered the Hind along the border between East and West Germany. Both sides' pilots expected that during a war, their helicopters would pursue each other in combat. Although the Hind was faster and could climb more quickly than the American HueyCobra, it was not as maneuverable, and tests had demonstrated that greater maneuverability was the decisive factor in helicopter-to-helicopter combat.
During one incident in the early 1980s, an American AH-1G Cobra was flying along the East German border when a Hind was ordered to intercept it. The two helicopters played a game of chase along the border, with the U.S. pilot constantly pulling into a sharp climb to force his faster opponent to overshoot him. Eventually the Hind pilot pulled back too hard and his aircraft started to tumble. He pushed his aircraft into a dive in order to recover, with the intention of pulling back sharply before hitting the ground. When he pulled back hard on his stick, the main rotor blades struck the tailboom of the Hind and the helicopter crashed, killing all aboard. This problem—the Hind's tendency to damage itself catastrophically when the rotors hit the tailboom—has long plagued the aircraft.
Despite its design, the Hind was rarely used in the troop-carrying role. Its most common use was as an assault helicopter in support of ground troops, much like the American Huey Cobra, or as a straight attack helicopter against fixed targets. Some Hinds have also been converted for use in the air defense role, defending Russian and other borders from slow-flying aircraft. In this role, the Hind earned a rather infamous place in history in 1995 when two Hinds in Belarussia shot down a wayward hot air balloon participating in an international air rally. The two American balloonists were killed, and the Hind crew was later decorated for their "brave" actions.
The export version of the Mi-24 was designated the Mi-25. These Hind variants were exported to a number of pro-Soviet nations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and soon became involved in numerous "brushfire wars" and operations against guerilla groups. The Hind was also exported to Nicaragua during 1983-84 to help the Sandinista government fight the American-supported Contras. Several Hinds were lost to shoulder-fired missiles and one pilot defected to Honduras with his aircraft.
It was in Afghanistan, not Europe, Africa, or Central America, where the Hind became most notable. Much of Afghanistan is a mountainous desert, and the helicopter was the best means of putting troops into rebel "Mujaheddin"-controlled areas. Hinds often rode shotgun to provide support or were later used to attack ground targets. Hinds also dispensed chemical weapons in Afghanistan, but this use was relatively ineffective.
The Mujaheddin soon nicknamed the Hind the "devil's chariot" and realized that their small guns were practically useless against its heavily armored hull. Bigger guns could bring down the Hind, but the real threat was from shoulder-launched, surface-to-air missiles, particularly the American heat-seeking Stinger, which the CIA began shipping to the Mujaheddin in large numbers starting in 1983. The Stinger could easily home in on either of the side-facing hot engine exhausts, located at the top of the fuselage near the rotor hub and bring down the helicopter. In response, the Soviets began fitting special covers over the exhausts to mix cooler air with the hot engine gases. This dramatically reduced losses but did not stop them completely and came with a price—the blocky covers slowed the helicopters down in flight, turning a fast, unmaneuverable helicopter into a slower, unmaneuverable helicopter. During the war, 333 Hinds were lost in combat; the number lost to operational accidents is not known.
The Hind is a difficult and unforgiving helicopter to fly. Unless a pilot is very careful, he can cause it to fly out of control or cause the rotors to collide with the tailboom. Although the Hind is fast, it is not very maneuverable, and this is a problem when flying at high speed close to the ground. In addition, a fully loaded Hind cannot hover and has to make a rolling takeoff. The Hind's performance suffered in the hot, thin air of Afghanistan.
The U.S. Army uses several Hinds as threat training aircraft where they are flown to attack U.S. ground forces in training simulations. Usually during the first several days of training, the Hinds "destroy" many vehicles. Once the troops learn how to deal with them, the Hinds become much less effective.
Despite the large numbers of Hinds exported worldwide, the helicopter has never been a complete success. It has rarely been used in the role for which it was intended, as a "flying infantry fighting vehicle." It is unnecessarily large and heavy for use as a gunship and has never possessed the tank-killing power of the U.S. AH-64 Apache. Its biggest drawback is its lack of night vision and precision navigation equipment. At a time when the AH-64 Apache can dominate the night, killing tanks at will, the Hind has trouble operating after the sun goes down.
The Russians themselves have essentially admitted the Hind's limitations and have developed the Mi-28 Havoc and Ka-50 Werewolf attack helicopters, which are smaller and more maneuverable and do not have the large cabin for carrying unnecessary troops. However, with the Russian military severely short of funds, it is likely that the "krokodil" will serve for many years to come.
Dwayne A. Day
Sources and Further Reading:
Chant, Christopher. Fighting Helicopters of the 20th Century. England: Tiger Books, 1996.
Debay, Yves. Combat Helicopters. France: Histoire & Collections, 1996.
Gordon, Yefim and Komissarov, Dimitriy. "Mil Mi-24 ‘Hind.'" World Airpower Journal 37 (Summer 1999): 42-89.
Stapfer, Hans-Heiri. Mi-24 Hind in Action, Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1988.