There’s a popular belief in Ukraine that our partners provide us with certain types of equipment. especially aviation, despite apparent reluctance.
On the other hand, isn’t it surprising that, while our army is engaged in serious operational activities on the frontline and inflicts losses on the enemy, we still have Su-35 jets and MiG-29 fighters in the air? And where did the parts to refurbish dozens of planes come from?
These questions aren’t readily asked or answered, and not without a reason—we’ll probably find the answers in books that will be written long after the war ends.
But judging from open sources, how well is our army equipped with, for example, helicopters?
Helicopters from Afghanistan: what Ukraine received
Since the beginning of Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, we have obtained quite a lot of helicopters from our Western partners.
The largest donation was indeed made in June 2022, when the United States handed over 20 Mi-17V-5 from the Afghan Air Force to Ukraine.
After the government forces had been routed by the Taliban, 46 aircraft flew to Tajikistan and 17 to Termez Airport in Uzbekistan. The most operational ones then went to Ukraine.
Moreover, five of them have already been repaired in Ukraine, as we can ensure comprehensive maintenance of such machines, including overhaul and modernization.
The Mi-17V-5 is an export version of a multirole machine with a rear loading ramp, a useful load of 4 tons, and a range of 350 kilometers, which Ukrainian pilots and technicians are largely trained to fly and repair.
Afghans used them as a palliative for fire support, mounting ordnance rocket packs and installing firing posts.
How Mi-17 helicopters help on the battlefield
Mi-17’s main roles are medical evacuation, airlifting reinforcements, and supply. For it, the ability to deploy a mortar battery and a few ATGM systems in the right place at the right moment is more important than spewing cast iron at the enemy.
owever, this option is also available when a strongpoint needs urgent relief or there’s a need to hit a bunch of armored vehicles. There’s an obvious choice between no mission and a stopgap mission.
Russian propagandists had a hard time making a U-turn to argue that Russian helicopters, which they claimed were the best in the world (after winning a NATO bid), would break down once they arrived in Ukraine. Not all of them handled it well.
Helicopters from Europe: how they helped in the summer campaign
Eastern Europe, namely Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia, also delivered multirole Mi-17s and even Mi-24B attack helicopters to Ukraine—a total of over 10 machines.
It looks like a sober strategy to me.
Last summer, we were desperate to get any equipment as soon as possible to make bombing strikes, evacuate enormous flows of casualties, carry anti-tank mines and "smart munitions" for artillery to the frontline, and deploy anti-tank squads, snipers, and deminers in the areas where our defense could crumble.
Even though most of the helicopters of the State Emergency Service and the Border Guard Service were spared during Russia’s first strike, a thousand-kilometer-long frontline will always be in need of workhorses. That’s why we had no time to retrain pilots or plan for the future—the army needed helicopters promptly. And promptly did they come.
Sea King from Britain and Ka-32A from Portugal
When the situation on the frontline had stabilized, narrower programs started, like the provision of Sea King helicopters from the United Kingdom or the former Russian Ka-32A from Portugal.
This is when we could start thinking of rescue missions, evacuating downed pilots, or helping shipwrecks. For instance, Portugal is providing helitack helicopters.
However, each of these aircraft is basically a naval helicopter.
Since the U.K. reported on the training of 10 crews, the delivery wouldn’t be limited to the previously announced three aircraft. In a narrow area like rescue naval aviation, it’s unlikely that we needed three crews per aircraft.
By the way, Sea King helicopters have a search radar that allows them to locate both a ship in distress and an enemy vessel. I would say the partners are gradually reinforcing our naval aviation.
Besides, even these versions can possibly be rigged with anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine torpedoes, or a buoy. It may seem unfeasible, but not more so than HARM anti-radar missiles launched from post-Soviet jets, which we’ve already seen hit targets.
In any case, the main thing is to deliver anti-ship missiles or anti-submarine torpedoes to the sector with the enemy, as almost all of them have homers.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has commissioned Westland WS-61 helicopters procured from Qatar for an anti-submarine unit. We could easily draw parallels if the modification given to Ukraine’s Naval Forces was announced. However, it wasn’t disclosed, which itself is also quite telling.
The helicopters Kyiv received from the partners—with more to come, totaling 40 to 50—have already played an essential part in helping us survive the most intensive period of the conflict. Parts and equipment were probably also crucial in maintaining the required number of daily sorties.
These are the building blocks of our victory. Of course, the fortitude of the Defense Forces and the Ukrainian people is the key. That said, it would have been much harder without dozens of helicopters, millions of munitions, and some 150 self-propelled howitzers.
Helicopters, the workhorses of war, have done a good job countering the Russian onslaught and aiding our autumn offensive.
Moreover, the West is also to be praised for the fact that, months into a war against a technically superior enemy that dominates the sky, we’re still not confined to partisan warfare but have operational Air Forces.