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The Ka-52K dubbed “Katran” is the

latest addition to the rotorcraft


inventory of the Russian Naval
Aviation (RNA). Alex Mladenov
looks at the marinized derivative
of the baseline Ka-52 attack
helicopter, with a plethora of
features for shipborne operations.

38 HELIOPS FRONTLINE
The first pre-production
Ka-52K (c/n 01-01) made
its maiden flight on 7 March
2015 at the manufacturer
AAC Progress’ airfield in
Arsenyev, Russia. (Kamov)

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A close-up view to the
Ka-52K’s rotor mast
with blades folded (Alex
Mladenov)

40 HELIOPS FRONTLINE
T
he shipborne Ka-52K is intended primarily for operations from
amphibious assault landing ships. Its main roles include armed
patrolling over land and sea, fire support of naval infantry units
during assault landing operations and anti-landing defense.
The Ka-52K was initially slated to be commissioned with the RNA in the mid-
2010s, but the program hit delays and cancellations; now it is expected that the
first production-standard Ka-52Ks will be handed over in 2021 at the earliest.
As Kamov designer general Sergey Mikheev recalls, the firm Russian MoD
requirement for a dedicated landing deck-capable derivative of the Ka-52
Alligator in the late 2000s proved to be an unexpected but otherwise much
welcomed turn for the program; in fact, it happened only thanks to the interest
in procuring the Mistral-class ships. The in-depth analysis on the suitability of
the helicopter for operations from rolling and pitching ship desks, where the
undercarriage strength would be the limiting factor, derived a positive result.
The designers, who were responsible for the undercarriage in the past, had
considered such extreme loads. There were no issues at all with the integration
of anti-ship missiles as the Kh-35 had already been tested from the Ka-27; so, its
integration onboard the Ka-52 was deemed to be a straightforward undertaking
provided that funding was made available.
The interest in a shipborne derivative in Russia appeared in 2008, as the
Russian MoD proceeded at the time forward with an ambitious plan to purchase
four large amphibious assault, command and power projection ships from
France. The aviation group of each ship was to include up to 16 helicopters;
a mixture of attack Ka-52Ks, assault transport Ka-29s and transport/SAR
Ka-27PS’; the ratio between the three types would depend on the specific
mission requirements.

MISTRAL DESK TRIALS


The first Ka-52 prototype carried out the impromptu evaluation of the desk
suitability and undercarriage design, operating for one day off the flight desk of
French Navy amphibious assault ship Mistral during her visit in St Petersburg,
Russia in December 2008. It was the pinnacle of the large-scale promotional
campaign sponsored by the French government. This was, in fact, a personal
undertaking by then French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who had energetically

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A close-up view to the port wing
in folded (stowed) position,
carrying a six-round launcher unit
for the 9M120-1 Ataka-1 anti-tank
promoted the Mistral sale to Russia. His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin,
guided missiles (Alex Mladenov)
had eventually agreed to purchase the ships. This act has been portrayed as an
appreciation of the much-needed French political support that Russia received
soon after the war with Georgia over the territory of South Ossetia in August 2008.
The ship sale was also a significant support that the French government
was keen to provide to national shipbuilder DCNS which had struggled with
an unimpressive order book at the time. In November 2009, even before the
completion of the tender that had to select the preferred contractor to build the
Russian Navy new power projection ships, the French government had sponsored
a visit of Mistral in St Petersburg in Russia, with the main intent to showcase that
the ship could meet the helicopter suitability and other requirements raised by the
Russian Navy. A Kamov team, led by Mikheev, was also invited to visit Mistral and
bring its helicopters for some limited compatibility demonstration.
Three helicopter types were slated to be tested; a Ka-52 owned by the Kamov
plus a Ka-27PL and Ka-29, both belonging to the RNA, operated by the Northern
Fleet’s 380th Independent Helicopter Regiment stationed at Severomorsk-1
airfield near Murmansk. During the testing, the Ka-52 was restricted to use the
ship’s rearmost landing spot only. The reason for this was related to the concern
of jettisoning the rotor blades in the event of crew ejection due to bad landing
approach or failure of an essential system. According to Mikheev, who observed
the Ka-52’s landing on Mistral, sailing at a full speed in the Gulf of Finland, the
helicopter had arrived and touched down the desk ‘just like as it was at home’.
Then the desk servicing crew of Mistral promptly approached the Ka-52 with
a fuel hose, demonstrating the ability to perform ‘hot’ refueling with rotors
turning. After filling the tanks with gas, the helicopter lifted off under applauds
by the guests and hosts from the Mistral’s crew. The landing and refueling cycle
was repeated three times and then the helicopter departed for Levashovo after
performing a low-level/high-speed pass over the desk.

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While the Ka-52 is being secured at the flight desk, a group
of the Mistral desk-servicing crewmen line-up in front for a
photo (Sergey Mikheev)

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Side-on view of the first pre-production Ka-52K in the fully-folded
(i.e. stowed) configuration, with the rotor blades secured with a
rigid restraint system providing resistance to strong winds and the
stub-wings folded rearwards. (Alex Mladenov)

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TOP: The Ka-52’s first prototype
seen during testing on the The ship survey had revealed that the height of the hangars and the aircraft
landing deck of the large ASW
ship Vice-Admiral Kulakov in elevator size is sufficient to house both the Ka-52 and Ka-27/29 families, but
Barents Sea near Murmansk. next to elevators the height was lower than the required minimum, rendering
(Vitaly Lebedev archive)
impossible to move the Ka-27 and Ka-29 from the elevator into the hangar and
BOTTOM: Sergey Mikheev posing back. This, together with a good many other elements of the ship structure,
for a photo together with test
pilot Vitaly Lebedev (to the
had to be redesigned; the list of improvements added to the Mistral’s Russified
left) and test navigator Vladimir derivative had also included strengthening the hull for operation in extreme
Yurtaev. (Vitaly Lebedev archive)
Northern climatic conditions with ice on the sea surface, providing a heating
system for the flight desk (needed for operating in extreme cold weather
conditions in order to prevent ice accretion) and arming the ship with surface-to-
air systems for self-defense as well as installing Russian-made navigation and
communications equipment.
The contract between the Russian MoD and a consortium made by France’s

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Ka-52K seen landing
on the desk of
DCNS and Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corp for purchasing the ships was
Admiral Kuznetsov
eventually agreed in June 2011. It covered the purchase of two modified Mistral- aircraft carrier in the
class ships, to be built at the STX shipyard in St Nazaire, France, with an Barents Sea, July
2016. (Kamov)
option for two more to be built in Russia at a later stage using all the technical
documentation developed for the first pair. The first of the two France-built
ships ordered for the Russian Navy, named Vladivostok, was slated to be ready
for hand-over in November 2014, earmarked to be operated by Russia’s Pacific
Fleet. The second ship, named Sevastopol, was slated to follow soon afterwards,
again to be delivered to the Pacific Fleet.

NAVAL-SPECIFIC DESIGN FEATURES


The supplement to the Ka-52’s technical and tactical assignment
(specification) issued by the Russian Air Force and Russian Navy called for the
development of a dedicated shipborne version designated Ka-52K (internal
Kamov OKB designation Item 820). It got a newly-designed rotor column with
manually-folded rotors, new radar, an all-new aircrew life-support system, a
new air conditioning unit, a newly-added emergency flotation gear and new

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The second prototype of the
Ka-52, ‘062’, was utilized as the
test bed for a range of design navigation aids for deck landings. The airframe also features enhanced corrosion
modifications implemented on the
Ka-52K such as the shortened, resistance while the stub wings were required to fold, together with the rotor, in
folding wings and the folding rotor order to reduce the footprint when stored inside a ship’s hangar or on crammed
blades (Alex Mladenov)
flight desks. It also introduced a new-design centralized refueling system and the
KSU rescue system for SAR operations in sea environment.
The shipborne Ka-52K, christened by Mikhev Katran (Spiny Dogfish), retained
both the targeting suite and weapons mix of the baseline model unchanged as
well as the powerplant and transmission. The most complex task at the Kamov
OKB was to design the folded rotors as the design solution, used in the 1970s
on the Ka-27, could not be implemented as it is on the Ka-52K. The reason is
the novel design of the Ka-52’s rotor blades that feature semi-rigid suspension
and torsion bearings in the form of steel plates. The resultant design solution
was non-standard and offered manually-folding rotor blades with folding and
unfolding time of around one minute; the blades have no additional operating
limitations imposed compared to those of the land-based variant.
As Mikheev explained, the Ka-52K’s wings were initially planned to fold
upwards and even a scale model with this particular folding scheme had been
demonstrated on scale models on several defense shows. Later on, however,
it turned out that such a wing folding scheme would be incompatible with the
engine cowlings when opened to enable the ground personnel to perform
routine engine inspections or maintenance. As a result, a new folding scheme
had been developed using shortened movable sections of the wings stowed aft,
rotating around a hinge on the trailing edge, next to the weapons pylon. This
new wing folding scheme had no adverse effect on the flight performance and
combat load but due to the shorter-span wings (compared to the wings of the
land-based variant), the shipborne Ka-52K is provided with only four weapons
pylons compared to six of its land-based forebear while retaining the same
load-carrying ability. Moreover, as Mikheev noted, the inner wing pylons had
been strengthened in a bid to be made able to carry up to 1,000kg (2,200lb) of
weapons each. This, in turn, would enable the Ka-52K to take onboard two Kh-35
anti-ship missiles. This new ordinance load, however, would require integrating

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Ka-52’s second
prototype, ‘062’, shown
an all-new radar for long-range target detection and missile designation. The here armed with a
Kh-35U anti-ship missile
current Ka-band FH-01 Arbalet-52 (Crossbow), inherited from the ground-based on the reinforced inter
Alligator, is optimized for overland use and would be ill-suited for anti-ship starboard stub-wing
pylon (Kamov).
missions due to its insufficient range, extending to no more than 11nm (20km).
That is why the Ka-52K is planned to be equipped in the future with a X-band
radar with a range exceeding 150km (81nm) when employed to detect and track
large ships.
For the Ka-52’s ship-borne derivative Phazotron-NIIR had proposed a new
dual-band radar, based on the FH-01 Arbalet design and featuring an additional
centimetric-wavelength channel (working in the X-band, emitting at 3cm
wavelength). It would be optimized for detection of sea surface targets, capable
of detecting large ships at a distance of between 150 and 180km (81 to 97nm).
Phazotron-NIIR’s designer general, Yuriy Guskov, maintained that, in
principle, the dual-wavelength capability could be provided by both the original
mechanical-scan parabolic antenna of the FH-01 Arbalet-52 (by utilizing two
separate emitters for the milimetric and centimetric wavelengths) or alternatively
by introducing a purpose-designed active electronic-scan phased array (AESA).
The former option, however, is considered as being far more affordable and the
AESA may not be implemented until the early 2020s. The Russian MoD had not
yet made a firm decision on the radar type to be used on the follow-on Ka-52Ks
as the four pre-production examples built at the AAC Progress in 2015 and 2016
retain the Ka-52’s original millimetric-wavelength set.
The huge Kh-35 anti-ship missile had already been test-fitted onto the inner
wing pylon of the second Ka-52 prototype, serialled ’062’, which was also
used as a test-bed to evaluate in flight the forward-folding wing design and the
rearwards-folding rotors.

MORE SEA TRIALS


In August 2011, the Ka-52’s first prototype underwent extensive ship
suitability trials, operating off the small deck of the Russian Northern Fleet’s

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Ka-52 ‘061’ seen
hovering next to the
bow of Vice-Admiral
Kulakov (Vitaly large anti-submarine ship (Project 1155) Vice-Admiral Kulakov sailing in Kola
Lebedev archive) Bay, in the Barents Sea. The choice of this ship was a compromise solution
since the landing desk of Vice-Admiral Kulakov was judged to be too small,
able to accommodate only two Ka-27 helicopters. However, there was no better
alternative to be used for sea trials at the time since the lone Russian aircraft
carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, was in a prolonged repair. The helicopter was flown
by Vitaliy Lebedev, a Kamov test pilot with rich naval flight operations expertise
and experience under his belt accumulated on the Ka-25 and Ka-27 helicopters,
flown predominantly from small-size ships. The second crew member was test
navigator Evgeniy Savin.
Ka-52 ‘061’ deployed to Severomorsk-1 airfield near Murmansk and
commenced the desk suitability flight testing campaign on 31 August. In two
weeks, it accumulated 35 sorties with numerous landings on the deck of Vice-
Vice-Admiral Kulakov when moored and on the move in the Kola Bay, exploring
in full the capabilities of the Ka-52 to land and take-off from rolling and pitching
desks. The maximum desk pitch during these operations reached 50 and the
wind speed was 20m/s (about 39 kts). The ship’s stern displacement experienced
at the maximum pitch was around 0.5m (1.6ft) in sea surface state one, making
landings on the small desk much more challenging than those on the much more
stable large amphibious assault ships.
Lebedev flew the shipborne trials with landings using all possible methods,
including a parallel closure with subsequent lateral movement to hover over the
desk center. The program also included exploring the go-around capabilities of
the helicopter in various emergency situations; the crew members noted that
the Ka-52 can perform a safe go-around at any point of the glideslope and also
during a rough landing. The list of the shortcomings revealed during this testing
campaign though included the poor visibility over the nose when closing to the
desk, which size was limited by the hangar wall. Mikheev, however, tended to
comment that the Ka-52K is intended for operations from the desks of large-

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size ships so this problem is not so acute and would not necessitate any radical
re-design. At the same time, Lebedev noted that the Ka-52 is even better suited
for shipborne operations compared to the Ka-27 family thanks to its lower
maximum height (by 410mm) and the corresponding lower center of gravity
position in combination with the longer undercarriage base (the distance between
the front and main undercarriage units). As a result, these features had rendered
the Ka-52 much more stable when on the moving ship desk. In addition, the
design of the main undercarriage unit shock absorbers enabled to shorten the
lift-off time.

IN DEVELOPMENT AND PRODUCTION


The Ka-52K development contract between Kamov and the Russian MoD was
eventually signed in 2012. It called for a full-scale development and construction
of four pre-production aircraft at the AAC Progress. The contract price amounted
to Roubles 3,396 billion (equating to about US $110 million at the time). Then,
a contract between Kamov and AAC Progress for the production of four
helicopters was inked on 16 September 2013, with all the helicopters originally
slated to be handed over until October 2014. Following this, a batch of 32
production-standard Ka-52Ks were to be delivered to the Russian Navy’s aviation
service from 2015 onwards, under a separate contract signed between the AAC
Progress and the Russian MoD.

The original development program schedule called for the first experimental
Ka-52K to be handed over to the Kamov OKB for full-scale testing and evaluation
in 2013, while all four examples ordered had to be delivered by October 2014.
The program, however, suffered from a serious delay due to the need to solve
numerous technical issues, with all the new technical solutions initially being
tested on the Kamov-owned Ka-52 prototypes and pre-series machines. The
main reason for this slippage had been attributed to the constantly changing
requirements of the end customer, the Russian Naval Aviation. It led, in turn, to a
good many design alterations that required time and effort to be tested and then
implemented on the aircraft at the production line.
The first pre-production Ka-52K shipborne helicopter (c/n 01-01) made its
maiden flight on 7 March 2015 at the manufacturer AAC Progress’ airfield in
Arsenyev, Russia, flown by the Kamov OKB test pilot Nail Azin and test navigator
Alexander Shveikin. Four months later this machine was displayed in public for
the first time at the Naval Salon in St Petersburg held in July 2015; next to it the
proposed for integration Kh-35U and Kh-38E missiles were shown. Then the
Ka-52K was displayed at the MAKS-2015 air show, held at Zhukovsky airfield
near Moscow in August, only on the static display. The eagerly-anticipated
contract covering the delivery of 32 production-standard Ka-52Ks was inked on
8 April 2014 by the Russian MoD and AAC Progress. The first 12 of these Katrans
were to be ready for delivery already during 2015, but later on the hand over date
slipped to 2016. At a later stage, however, the production contract was canceled
and it is now slated for a signature not before 2019.
Also in 2014, Russian simulation technology specialist, TsNTU Dinamika, was
awarded a contract for the delivery of two simulator training complexes for the
Ka-52K, with delivery deadline set at 25 November 2014. The first of these was
required to be set up at the Russian Naval Aviation Combat Training and Aircrew
Conversion Center at Yeisk while the second one was earmarked for installation
at the naval airbase in Nikolayevka north of Vladivostok.

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MISTRAL DEAL CANCELLED
The Ka-52Ks was originally intended to be operated from the two Mistral-
class amphibious assault ships, with each of these able to take on board up
to eight Ka-52Ks, in addition to eight more Ka-27/29s. The Mistral contract
termination by mutual convenience was followed by the prompt return of the
payment for the ships to Russia, in the amount of nearly Euro 1 billion. At the
same time, as Mikheev claimed in August 2015, nobody in Russia had been
rushing to cancel the Ka-52K’s production order.
However, after the eventual French government refusal to hand over the
ships in 2014 due to newly-raised tensions surrounding Russia’s involvement in
the crisis in Ukraine and the subsequent termination of the contract by mutual
convenience in August 2015, the Ka-52K production contract was also canceled,
set to be reviewed in the future, when Russian-built large amphibious assault
ships will be ordered.
In addition to Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, the Russian Navy currently
has only two ship classes that would be suitable, at least in theory, to carry
the Ka-52K – it is Project 1174 Ivan Rogov, which can accommodate up to four
helicopters (but none of the three ships of the class is currently in operational
use), while the newly-built Project 11711 Ivan Gren’ and Petr Morgunov can take
up to two.
Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corp claimed in 2015 that it can propose larger
assault landing ships, capable of accommodating of up to 16 helicopters but the
first of these is set to be ordered in 2019 and would be not ready before 2023 at
the earliest.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT PLANS


According to Mikheev, the Kamov OKB is well suited to develop follow-on
Ka-50 and Ka-52 derivatives for naval use. One of his novel proposals calls for
an airborne early warning (AEW) version, utilizing an array of conformal radar
antenna panels for 360° coverage and electronic boxes housed in external pods.

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Mikheev claimed that such a design is going to be better than the current Ka-31
– designed in the late 1980s – that features a large rotating antenna under the
fuselage that creates huge stability and control problems and requires the use
of a sophisticated automatic flight control system. The resultant AEW helicopter
based on the Ka-50 or Ka-52 will be much more compact and boasting a
considerably higher performance than the Ka-31.
In regard to the naval-specific features of the Ka-52, Mikheev is sure that
some of these could be also used with success on the land-based version. This
is especially true for the folding rotors, which are a useful feature for helicopters
operated in dessert or extreme cold conditions. The land-based Ka-52 with
folding rotors and wings has a much smaller footprint and therefore can be
accommodated in small-size hangars for ease of its servicing in hot climate. The
same is true for helicopters operated in Arctic conditions, where small heated
hangars can be used for helicopter maintenance and storage.
Egypt is the first export customer for the Ka-52K, which staged a tender for
new shipborne attack helicopters and in May 2017 the Katran offered by Russia
arms export monopolist agency Rosoboronexport was announced the winner,
while Airbus Helicopters lost the competition, offering its Tiger. A contract of an
undisclosed quantity of export-standard Ka-52Ks for Egypt is expected to be
signed until the end of 2017, with first deliveries expected in late 2019 or early
2020.
In September 2017, a Chinese military delegation visited the AAC Progress
plant to evaluate the production process. It was hinted that the delegation had
a special interest in the Ka-52K, considered as a candidate to enter into service
with the naval air arm. If approved by both governments, a Ka-52K contract for
the Chinese naval aviation arm is expected to be inked in 2018 or 2019, with first
deliveries taking place two years afterwards.

FIRST TESTING PHASE COMPLETED


In April 2017, Russian Helicopters reported that the Ka-52K has successfully
completed the first phase of its comprehensive naval testing program including
deck operations. It took the participation of two pre-series helicopters, which
were then transferred to the Kamov flight test and maintenance facility in
Chkalovsky near Moscow for a detailed technical examination after the prolonged
on-sea operation in aggressive environment and introducing some modifications.
The first phase of the naval testing took place from late 2016 to early 2017,
with one of the helicopters operating off the desk of the Russian navy aircraft
carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which sailed from its base in Murmansk to the
eastern Mediterranean to support the Russian military campaign in Syria. The
pair of Ka-52Ks flew only testing and evaluation sorties in proximity to the ship,
including firing of 80mm rockets and the 30mm 2A42 gun.
According to Vladislav Savelyev, deputy director general of Russian
Helicopters holding responsible for the sales, the Ka-52K completed successfully
the naval testing effort and got an approval from the Russian military
airworthiness authorities for basing on the aircraft carrier desk for routine combat
operations. As Saveliev noted, the Ka-52K testing will continue, including off the
desk of Admiral Kuznetsov. In July 2017 one of the prototypes completed a short
testing program off the desk of the frigate Admiral Gorshkov in the Baltic Sea to
evaluate shipborne compatibility details.
The second phase of Ka-52K testing was launched in August 2017 and
covered the resistance to high-intensity electromagnetic fields of helicopter’s
avionics and armament. The new inertial navigation system was also set for a
comprehensive testing. v

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