Russian helicopters have proved their sophisticated tactical and technical characteristics, demonstrated the capability to perform missions of any complexity and received high service evaluation by the army aviation flight personnel in most countries of the world.
There is no doubt that such “corny” formulations are still used as a mantra by the “Rosoboronexport” leadership, including during their reports “upstairs”, despite the obvious failures in military-technical cooperation and a series of earth-shattering aircraft crashes around the world.
It should be noted that back in 2017, Dmitriy Shugaev, the Chief of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) of the Russian Federation, said the following in an interview for “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” (trans. – the Russian Newspaper): “Close attention is drawn to our helicopter materiel worldwide”. His words were prophetic. However, international attention has been focused on Russian aircraft due to completely different motives, absolutely not those motives that the Russian official dreamed of.
Indonesian experience in operating Russian helicopters
In July 2020, Russian Ambassador to Indonesia Lyudmila Vorobyeva, during an interview with “RIA Novosti” (trans. – RIA News) was full of optimism and declared a “solid track record of achievements” in the area of military-technical cooperation. However, the absurdity, surrealism and insanity of the situation around the Russian-Indonesian contract for the supply of helicopter equipment suggests otherwise. To some extent, this contract can even be compared with Vladimir Beshanov’s much talked-of bestseller “Flying Coffins” of Stalin (orig. – “Летающие гробы” Сталина). “Lower and lower and lower.”
Even given all the “outstanding performance of a helicopter in flight”, the quality of Russian companies` services for post-flight helicopter maintenance, repair and modernization turned out to be deplorable. The main problematic issue of all helicopters is the leakage of lubricant from the main rotor hub.
What is meant here is that each time helicopter lands, the technical personnel goes up to the main rotor and attaches liter plastic glasses to each blade root in order to prevent the lubricant, leaking out of the blade attachment, from greasing the fuselage.
Subsequently, under pressure from foreign operators, the manufacturer (the “Design Bureau named after Mil”, the Russian Federation) officially recognized this problem, classifying it as a manufacturing defect that occurs in hot-climate countries. And then – that’s it! Neither “Rosoboronexport” nor the “Mil and Kamov National Helicopter Industry Center” have done anything whatsoever to resolve this issue…
In fact, the Indonesians were left high and dry. However, this problem was solved only thanks to the titanic efforts of the local technical personnel. They were forced to additionally purchase the required equipment to eliminate the aforementioned defect.
Although, the suffering of the technical staff did not end there. Helicopter spare parts, components and assemblies bought by Jakarta from the Russian Federation did not withstand the declared service life and went out of order almost immediately after the beginning of operation.
We may also provide an example of a similar situation around the Russian-Lithuanian contract. Back in 2016, the "Helisota" company (Kaunas city, Lithuanian Republic) carried out repairs of the Mi-17-V5 helicopter (serial number 360М04). The helicopter was returned to the military unit, at first glance, in an excellent condition. However, it turned out that the transmission, purchased at the Ural Enterprise (the Russian Federation), after 60 hours of flight is unserviceable, which is why mentioned helicopter was placed in a hangar for storage, and its further employment was suspended. All attempts to carry out warranty-covered repair of the transmission have remained unsuccessful. As a result, the transmission was returned to the Russian Federation for a guarantee repair and… It was kept there in storage for several years! The manufacturer disclaimed liability, citing the alleged fault of the Lithuanian company. For more than five years, the repair issue was not resolved and the helicopter was unserviceable all this time.
After the abovementioned events, the command of the Army Aviation of the Republic of Indonesia decided to send three helicopters to the Russian Federation in order to get the overhaul and receive services directly from the manufacturer. Then, in 2019, the Army Aviation received three repaired Mi-35P helicopters. However, the 31st squadron command discerned the quality of repair as unsatisfactory.
In general, the repair was reduced to fuselage defect detection, repainting and surface repair of the helicopter main units and assemblies. After such repair, the portholes cracks and other defects were noticed. While one of the helicopters (tail number HS-7151) was immediately banned from operation due to rotor blades defects. After 50-60 hours of helicopter employment, sheared varnish, sheared paint and holes were formed in the sections of the blades.
The squadron command filed a formal complaint and reclamation, but there is still no reaction from the Russian Federation, and the helicopter is still not employed.
Another attempt to repair the helicopter, using Russian spare parts, led to further budget funds waste. In 2021, the Indonesian company “PT Baswara”, which is the official partner of “Russian Helicopters” limited company and “Aviahelp” company, decided not to tempt fate, but to send the Russian helicopter to the Lithuanian company “Helisota” for repair. Unfortunately, the Indonesians again acquired a Russian-made reducing gearbox and repeated their 2016 experience due to a vain attempt to save money.
According to the gear-reducing box check results (gear-reducing box, serial number 12190700411, manufactured 19th August 2019 according to its passport), “Helisota” technicians discovered serious breakdowns (the presence of metal chips in the lubricant of the allegedly new Russian gear-reduction box).
The leadership of the Army Aviation of the Republic of Indonesia was forced to revise the budget for 2021 and to abandon some important programs in order to purchase an additional gear-reduction box and complete the helicopter repair.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the Indonesian Army Aviation higher command has a rather negative attitude towards further prospects for cooperation with the corresponding Russian enterprises. In concluding, I would like to make a lyrical digression. There is an opinion that a journalist, while describing certain events and facts, should be impartial, unbiased and should avoid value judgments. To some extent, this is correct. But still…
Looking back at the recent aircraft crash in India and taking into account all facts, I personally associate it with the air burial custom (in some Asia-Pacific region countries, the coffin with the deceased is not buried into the ground, but instead is attached to a sheer cliff and the body of the deceased seems to float in the air). Perhaps this is the real point of buying Russian helicopters?