Golden Hind's long voyage

It is almost 50 years since the Mil Mi-24 assault helicopter entered service. Given the NATO reporting name Hind, its first operational use was in the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghanistan War, when it was christened the ‘Devil’s Chariot’ by the Mujahideen guerrillas. Today, as David Oliver reports, the Hind is being used in the civil wars in Syria and Libya, and by Algeria against jihadist militants.

Under fire: Libyan Air Force Mi-25 854 was captured by Free Libyan Air Force and shot down by pro-Gaddafi forces in April 2011. Picture: Rob Schleiffert.

Algeria took delivery of 20 Mi-25s – the export version of the Mi-24D – in 1980, plus a similar number of Mi-24Vs, which operated against various Islamist rebel groups during the 1991 to 2002 civil war.

A total of 30 were extensively upgraded to SuperHind Mk.IIIs by the South African company, ATE, now part of the Paramount Group.

They were equipped with modern western avionics, countermeasures and electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor systems.

Recently, they have been in action against the Nusrat al-Islam fighters affiliated to Al-Qaeda in Mali.

More than 40 Mi-25s were delivered to Syria during the 1980s and, in June 2011, Syrian Arab Air Force Mi-25 crews were among the first to participate in the Syrian Civil War, when they were ordered to attack defecting army units in Idlib province. Losses soon mounted.

In 2020, less than 20 Syrian Mi-25s are believed to be operational, with 766 Squadron at Dmeyr and 765 Squadron of the 30th Helicopter Brigade at Almazza. There’s another unit based at Blei Air Base, while several are permanently detached to other air bases.

Russian combat operations in Syria, following a request by the Syrian Government for military aid against rebel groups, began in September 2015, with more than a dozen Hinds deployed to Humaymim Air Base.

A Russian Air Force Mi-35M, the latest variant of the Hind, crashed in July 2016 during a rocket attack against Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) positions near Palmyra, and a Russian Mi-24P crashed in December 2017, when it hit power lines in Hama province.

Five years later, the Russian Air Force is still operating in Syria. In September 2020, two US Army AH-64 Apache helicopters were shadowing a Russian military police convoy when it was reported that a Russian Mi-35M and a Mi-8 helicopter intervened, forcing the Apaches to retreat.

Some 40 Mi-25s and 12 Mi-35s were delivered to Libya between 1982 and 1983 and the Libyan Air Force used them during its numerous interventions in Chad’s civil war.

The Hinds were first used in October 1980 in the battle of N’Djamena, where they helped the People’s Armed Forces seize the capital. Six were lost over Chad during the next five years.

The Libyan Air Force Hinds were used by both sides to attack enemy positions during the 2011 Libyan civil war. A number were captured by the rebels, who formed the Free Libyan Air Force.

During the battle for Benina Airport in February 2011, one Mi-35 was destroyed on the ground and another was captured by the rebels.

Two Mi-35s operating for the pro-Gaddafi Libyan Air Force were destroyed on the ground in March 2011 by French aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone during Operation Unified Protector.

One Free Libyan Air Force Mi-25D violated the no-fly-zone in April 2011 to strike loyalist positions in Ajdabiya. It was shot down by ground forces.

After the overthrow and death of Gaddafi, the Libyan National Army and Air Force were disbanded but re-established in 2012. However, by 2015, Libya’s military had split into two factions, the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

The country slid into a second civil war with the two factions operating their own emasculated air forces with, between them, no more than 30 serviceable aircraft, including a few Hinds. These aircraft are largely flown and maintained by mercenaries.

Three Mi-24Ps were bought by the UAE from Belarus and delivered to the LNA at Marj in April 2015.

In April 2019, the eastern-based LNA attacked the stronghold of the internationally recognised GNA in Triploi. However, that action failed.

In April 2020, an LNA Mil Mi-35 was shot down near Misrata and another Mi-35 was captured when GNA forces took the LNA’s strategic al-Watiya Air Base in May.

In September 2020, an LNA MiG-29 was shot down by GNA forces and its Russian mercenary pilot was rescued by an LNA Mi-24 Hind. A few days later, another LNA Mi-24 crashed near Al-Jufrah Air Base, killing four Russian mercenaries on board.