Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.
U.S. and Soviet Union During the Cold War
Sometimes, when rivals resort to all means necessary, they can end up as good as one another. During the events of the Cold War, the U.S. had an advantage over the Soviet Union in terms of economy. Simply put: a better economy means more resources to build a healthier armed force. And with better armed forces comes better defense against invasion, as well as more muscle to stage an invasion.
The problem with the Soviet Union was that its communist-style economy couldn't keep up with the west, and it basically went broke in its attempt to outdo western power. But the Soviet’s efforts never really came to waste, as we can still see its legacy in the weapons being used both inside and outside the current Russian Federation. For countries that can’t afford western hardware, Russian war machines are great alternatives. Though not perfect, they are rugged, battle-proven and cost-effective.
One of these, the Mil Mi-24, saw action in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as well as in many other conflicts around the world. The Mil Mi-24 is a true beast of the sky. It’s a tough combat chopper that became the scourge of the Mujahadeen. Its ability to pound its way with an assortment of weapons and carry infantries made it unique.
The U.S. never had an equivalence to this Russian flying armored infantry carrier. But they did have an answer. Their experiences during the Vietnam War gave birth to a helicopter dedicated solely to fighting. The first attack helicopter, the AH-1 Cobra, is another battle-proven weapons platform. Its sleek serpentine design and array of weapons made it a maneuverable menace in the sky.
This leads war buffs to sometimes wonder: which among the two is better?
Why Was the Mil Mi-24 Built?
It is worth noting that these two helicopters from former rivals were built quite differently. At times they fulfilled a similar role, like tank killings and close air support, yet the chopper from the Russian side, the Mil Mi-24 (also known as "the Hind") had an added function.
The Soviet designer Mikhael Mil realized that increased battlefield mobility would result in a need for a flying infantry fighting vehicle. The Soviet forces would need an airborne armored transport capable of both unleashing heavy firepower and carrying troops. Such idea of an air cavalry later evolved into mock-ups and prototypes, until the Mil Mi-24 was finally born.
The design of the Hind reflects Mikhael Mil’s concept of a flying infantry fighting vehicle, and the end result is an "assault" helicopter. On the outside, we have a robust-looking chopper, with a tandem cockpit covered by twin bubble canopies. Wings provided hardpoints to mount weapons, while the fuselage itself is armored.
Like a true attack helicopter, it could perform various tasks like aerial combat, close air support and tank killing. But what set it apart was its ability to carry troops. A Mil Mi-24 could carry 8 of them, a capability that Soviet airborne units exploited during the Soviet-Afghan War.
This is what the airborne cavalry meant for the Soviets. The U.S. also had its own idea regarding air cavalry, but the approach was different.
The Birth of the AH-1 Cobra
Air cavalry was also the idea behind the deployment of the UH-1 during the Vietnam War. At last, the U.S. had the means to go mobile across a wider area, whereas fleets of helicopters would roam the country with troops ready to fight anywhere and anytime. But initial experiences with helicopters during the Vietnam war also exposed its vulnerability.
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An unarmed helicopter is a good target for enemy ground fire, especially during troop insertion and extraction. It became clear that it needed friendly fire support, like an armed escort preferably from an airborne source. Eventually, armed versions of the Huey were developed to protect the ones carrying troops, but it became clear that the army needed a helicopter dedicated to such a task. Plus, there was a worrisome build-up of Soviet tanks in the East-West border in Europe.
The development of an attack helicopter then commenced, which lead to the first of its kind. The Bell AH-1 Cobra. Unlike the Huey, the Cobra was built exclusively for firefights and tank killings. The slim airframe used a tandem cockpit design, which made it faster and more maneuverable, in addition to making the profile smaller and harder to shoot. For armaments, it carried an assortment of machineguns, rockets and grenade launchers.
Its first assignment was in Vietnam, but it also saw extensive use in various conflicts. Like the Hind, the Cobra also served in different armed forces. Right now, the Cobra exists in various versions, such as the modernized SuperCobra.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Both Helicopters
What we have here are two battle-proven pieces of hardware from former rivals. These two helicopters were born out of different battle doctrines, with the Mil Mi-24 as a flying infantry flying vehicle, and the Cobra as a dedicated closed air support and tank killer vehicle.
Now, for an air assault mission, the Hind has a clear advantage. Rear area troops will be devastated by its load-out of rockets and machine-gun fire, in addition to the soldiers it carries. But when it comes to tank-killing, the Cobra, and its modernized version the SuperCobra, is the better choice. It packs bigger firepower, with the TOW missiles under its wings.
But how about the aerial dogfight?
The Hind is known for its power, in fact, it earned the nickname "Satan’s Chariot" from the Afghan rebels. It is also faster than the Cobra. Yet, the smaller frame of the Cobra presents a more difficult target to shoot, in addition to being more maneuverable and having better weaponry.
It's a Draw
But in the end, it boils down to these boring conclusions: pilot skill and training matter. These two airborne monsters had no clear technical advantages over each other, while they are successful in their own individual combat records. Simply put, they did their jobs pretty well.
And in case one was wondering, the two did meet and duel during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq came thundering with its Hind, while Iran answered with its fleet of SuperCobras. And the result was unremarkable. Both sides gave conflicting claims of victories, with Iran boasting more Mil Mi-24 destroyed using their SuperCobras, while Iraq claimed the opposite. Eventually, the skirmishes were declared as even, proving that pilot skills matter more in this case.
1. Gordon, Yefim; Komissarov, Dmitry (2001). Mil Mi-24 Hind, Attack Helicopter. Airlife.
2. Bernstein, Jonathan. US Army AH-1 Cobra Units in Vietnam (Osprey Combat Aircraft #41). Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Limited, 2003
3. Bishop, Chris. Huey Cobra Gunships. Osprey Publishing, 2006.
4. Hutchison, Harold (28 July 2021). "This is what would happen if a Hind took on a Cobra." We are Mighty.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.