In a significant development, the Algerian military is welcoming the arrival of its upgraded Mi-171SH helicopters, following a comprehensive overhaul carried out by Russia’s St. Petersburg Aircraft Repair Company (SPARK).
This substantial upgrade project involved 39 Algerian Mil Mi-171 helicopters, which were originally constructed by the Ulan-Ude Aircraft Plant.
The overhaul of these helicopters extended to a critical component for night operations: the night vision goggles (NVG) employed by Mi-171SH crews. These vital NVGs have undergone meticulous repairs and updates, ensuring their continued effectiveness and reliability. Notably, these advanced goggles were developed by Geofizika-NV in Moscow, underlining the collaboration between Russian and Algerian defence entities.
This noteworthy development traces its roots back to 2002 when Algeria and Russia’s official arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, sealed a deal for the acquisition of 42 Mi-171Sh helicopters valued at $180 million. Deliveries of these helicopters took place between 2002 and 2004, although Algeria has since lost three of these aircraft.
The Mi-171Sh transport/attack helicopter represents an upgraded variant of the venerable Mil Mi-8 (Hip) utility helicopter. It is specifically designed for a multifaceted role that encompasses the elimination of hostile materiel, including armored vehicles, fortifications, weapon emplacements, and enemy manpower. Furthermore, its armament suite includes precision-guided munitions such as the 9M120 Ataka and 9M114 Shturm anti-tank guided missiles. Impressively, the Mi-171Sh can accommodate up to 37 troops in full battle gear, 12 casualties on litters, or 4 tons of cargo, making it versatile for search and rescue as well as casualty evacuation (CASEVAC/MEDEVAC) missions.
Key enhancements incorporated into the Mi-171Sh include two high-power VK-2500 engines, a comprehensive defensive aids suite, and a modern cockpit equipped with multifunction displays capable of showing digital maps and interfacing with GPS and GLONASS navigation systems. Importantly, these upgrades extend the helicopter’s service life, thereby generating substantial life-cycle maintenance cost savings.
The military transport helicopter was introduced into the global market in 2002 by the Russian state-owned special exporter Rosoboronexport.
A noteworthy historical context surrounds the modernization efforts of Algeria’s Mi-171Sh helicopters. Initially, the South African company Paramount Technologies and Engineering (ATE) proposed a modernization kit in 2007, intending to transform these transport helicopters into formidable attack helicopters equipped with capabilities similar to the Mi-24MK II. This plan called for the modification of 42 helicopters by the Establishment for the Renovation of Aeronautical Materials of Dar El Beida (Ermaero) using expertise provided by South African Paramount ATE. While a prototype was developed and underwent rigorous testing, the Algerian Air Force eventually opted for a different approach.
In 2014 and 2016, Algeria chose to refurbish 39 of its Mi-171Sh helicopters in Russia through the SPARK program, foregoing the ATE modernization kit. This decision led to the return of these upgraded helicopters to Algeria.
Notably, a demonstrator of the Mi-171Sh, bearing the Matricule 633 for the Algerian Air Force, appeared in Russia in 2016, showcasing a range of advanced upgrades. These enhancements included the President-S protection system to defend against surface-to-air and man-portable missile threats, quadruple mounts for launching anti-tank guided missiles, a visual-thermal monitoring system, and a radar system. These modifications have significantly enhanced the capabilities of Algeria’s Mi-171SH fleet, reaffirming its position as a valuable asset to the nation’s military.
With 40 ‘Super Hips‘ helicopters, the Algerian Air Force will acquire at a low cost a squadron of helicopters capable of carrying out armed patrols and engaging tanks over 5 to 8 km, which makes it a very valuable means of support and will complete the fleet of attack helicopters which includes 42 Mi 28s and around twenty modernized Mi 24 Mk IIIs.
Moscow’s aspirations for arms sales and military collaboration agreements with Algeria are aimed at strengthening Russia’s position in the region. However, the prospect of establishing a naval base at the port of Mers al-Kabir remains elusive. Algeria is actively seeking to balance its international arms acquisitions while expressing a growing interest in technology-transfer arrangements that would enable the development of its domestic arms industry.
Algeria adheres to its constitutional ban on military deployments beyond its borders and maintains a steadfast policy of non-interference in regional affairs. While certain Russian equipment proves valuable for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, the remainder appears more suitable for defensive purposes against potential adversaries such as Morocco, Libya, or even European forces. With Russian support, the Algerian National People’s Army (ANP) has risen to become the second-most potent military force on the African continent.