Let’s Talk About Russian Gunship Helicopters’ Unusual And Inaccurate Way Of Firing Rockets In Ukraine

Russian helicopter
Russian gunship helicopter firing rockets in Ukraine (screengrab from video embedded below)

Some new video seems to prove Russians in Ukraine are turning their gunship helicopters into airborne MRLS…

A video posted on Twitter on Mar. 17, 2022, shows an air-to-surface engagement by Russian helicopters in Ukraine, using an unusual method to employ unguided rockets. Rockets as such are not precision-guided weapons, especially in the setting we can see in the video.

The helicopters go into a shallow dive, then climb out and launch the rockets at the top of the parabolic arc of their flightpath, sending them downrange. This method, for once, gives the rockets a greater amount of energy at the very launch (as they are moving at the speed at which the launch platform is moving), but also extends the range, as they are launched upwards, and following a ballistic trajectory. The above means that the Ka-52 and Mi-28 helicopters here have become sort of airborne MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) launchers.

Unless the Russian fire control system on those helicopters has the functionality to carry out this kind of NLOS (Non-Line of Sight) launch and provide the crew with a roughly accurate launch solution, this type of attack is far from accurate, and could only be effectively employed against area targets that do not require accuracy. Precision-guided weapons are also sometimes launched in this way, following a parabolic arc trajectory (such as JDAM bombs or guided artillery rounds for instance), but here the munitions are most probably unguided, hence there is, most certainly, no precision available whatsoever.

The technique, that allows the gunships to hit from longer distance while remain low and possibly outside the range of Ukrainian air defense systems, vaguely reminds the toss bombing we have seen used to deliver nuclear weapons by tactical aircraft in the Cold War era.

Notably, the Russians have commissioned the new S-8OFP (С-8ОФП) rockets, according to various sources they have a declared a range of 6 kilometers.

There’s little info available on the S-8OFP – some of the western sources mention a possibility to implement a seeker. All sources, meanwhile point to a dual-mode fuse – either in contact or delay mode – for enhanced armor penetration. Assuming that S-8OFP is an unguided weapon – no there’s no way to make this methodology accurate. Only PGMs are suitable for this attack method (NLOS), Also, the target designator needs to have the target within its line of sight.

Someone pointed out that the Russian helicopter crews were just getting rid of the munitions they carried. However, footage captured during exercises in Russia clearly shows that this engagement method is a part of the pilot’s training curriculum.

This is where the threat posed by MANPADS comes into play.

Polish Piorun MANPADS (MAN Portable Air Defense System), delivered to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, offers an engagement range of 6.5 kilometers and a significant lethality at ultra-low level (below 100 meters). Thus, it could be concluded that even at the maximum range, anti-aircraft missile as such is a threat to a relatively slow moving helicopter. It seems reasonable that the crews were aware and wary of the potential MANPADS threat around the target area, and tried to engage their intended target while remaining outside the range of the air defense systems.

About Jacek Siminski
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of DefensePhoto.com. Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.