Will Poland Upgrade its Mi-24 Helicopters? Polish Industry Continues the Airframe Fatigue Tests

Polish Mi-24 Hind during the Defender Europe 20 exercise. Image:  Juliusz Sabak/Defence24.pl
Polish Mi-24 Hind during the Defender Europe 20 exercise. Image: Juliusz Sabak/Defence24.pl

Fatigue testing of the Mi-24 helicopter would provide the user with an answer to the question of whether the modernization is still justified, are still in progress. So far, the results have been inconclusive, in deciding whether the modernization would be possible, Defence24.pl found out.

Polish Armed Forces currently operate 28 Mi-24D/W helicopters - the backbone of the inventory used by the 1st Army Aviation Brigade. These are frequently used to provide air support for the land forces during exercises such as Dragon-21 or Karakal-21. The aircraft, for years now, have not been able to utilize guided munitions. Not to mention the fact that the avionics, or the self-protection systems have become obsolete.

Ultimately, the Mi-24 helicopters are to be replaced by the Kruk platform - soon to be procured. Modernization of the Mi-24s has also been planned for a few years now. In 2020, during the Defence24 DAY conference, announcements were made on the finalization of the analytical process pertaining to weapons and sensors for the Mi-24.

At the same time, one of the aircraft has been undergoing fatigue tests (Mi-24, reg. no. 272). It was delivered from Germany in 1996. The said aircraft was also involved in operations undertaken by the Polish military in Iraq. The fatigue tests have been ordered at PZL Świdnik by the Air Force Institute of Technology, ITWL - the goal is to check whether the upgraded aircraft would remain airworthy.

According to the initial assumptions, the testing was to take place between 2019 and 2021. We have sent an inquiry to the Polish Ministry of Defence, regarding the test results.

We would like to inform you that fatigue tests pertaining to the Mi-24 helicopter are in progress now. So far, the analysis and descriptions of the obtained fatigue tests results do not make it possible to deliver a clear and ultimate answer, when it comes to possibility, or the lack of it, to modernize the Mi-24 helicopters. Thus, the ultimate decision on that matter would be made, following the fatigue tests. However, the upgrade depends on confirmation of the possibility to extend the airframe’s lifetime to at least 5,000 flight hours, in line with the Technical-Tactical Requirements.

Press Department at the Operational Centre of the Polish Ministry of Defence

The fatigue testing of the airframe is still in progress now. The results so far have been inconclusive, when it comes to determining the possibility to carry out the modernization (or the lack of it). Notably, the upgraded Mi-24 helicopters could potentially be operated, at least for some time, alongside the new Kruk attack helicopter platform. On one hand, this would ensure a smooth transition to the new platform, on the other, the army aviation potential would also be enhanced. Should the above scenario become true, the Army would have three, or even four helicopter squadrons armed with ATGMs.

In the longer run, this potential could be reinforced by the Perkoz multi-role helicopters in combat configuration. Perkoz procurement process is also still on track. When it comes to the Kruk programme, it has been stuck at the stage of assessment of the emergence of the Basic National Security Interest. The analytical conceptual phase also has not come to an end yet.

The Assessment regarding the Basic National Security Interest plays a key role in this programme. Here, it is possible that either US-made helicopters (AH-64E Apache Guardian, AH-1Z Viper) are acquired, or a European design is chosen instead. Leonardo Helicopters AW-249 is the most probable choice in the latter case. The company is offering related industrial cooperation to Poland, should the offering of theirs be selected.

Wojciech Skurkiewicz, Polish Vice-Minister of Defence, said, in his recent interview for Polskie Radio 24, that we shall not expect the new helicopters to be delivered prior to 2024. He added that attack helicopters “that would probably meet the expectations of the Armed Forces” have been manufactured by several companies in a couple of countries. Skurkiewicz said that it may take a few years before the new helicopter is selected.

The lack of decision on acquisition of new attack helicopters, and/or modernization of the Mi-24 platform, would result in stripping the Army Aviation of its CAS capabilities. The requirements are broad. The first assumption for the Kruk programme was to procure 32 aircraft, but the Strategic Defence Review document mentioned the requirement to own around 100 helicopters capable of launching ATGMs.