The Bangladesh Army has officially sought to purchase attack helicopters to augment its firepower in accordance with Forces Goal 2030 as per their official EoI notice in September 2021.
It has laid out a basic requirement, which allows for both Group A & Group B countries to participate in an open tender to supply the attack helicopters after a rigorous set of procurement processes that could last two to three years.
The Bangladesh Defence Analyst is familiar with the procurement matter and has shortlisted the possible candidates for potential acquisition.
The shortlisted are:
- Boeing AH-64E
- Eurocopter Tiger
- Russian Helicopters Mi-28NE
- TAI T-129B
All of the helicopters except for the T-129B are armed with a chin-mounted 30mm gun system, but that is not a major factor.
The Boeing AH-64E was offered by the US to the Bangladesh Air Force along with the AH-1Z, but the air force down-selected the AH-64E over the AH-1Z. The Army would also opt for the same however, without the framework agreements such as ACSA and GSOMIA signed it is unlikely that the Bangladesh Army would want to wait for another 4 to 5 years to induct attack helicopters when all neighbouring countries have obtained such platforms for their respective forces.
The Eurocopter Tiger is also a viable candidate that would meet the overall technical requirements of the Bangladesh Army, however the Army’s previous bad experience with obtaining spare parts from Airbus Defence means that the chances of purchasing the Eurocopter Tiger is extremely slim.
The Mi-28NE or NM attack helicopter however has a very strong chance. Firstly the parent company has an ongoing contract with the Bangladesh Army to continuously supply it with Mi-171Sh combat-support helicopters. The Army is very satisfied with the performance of the Mi-171Sh, and moreover, other forces such as the Border Guard Bangladesh and Bangladesh Police obtained the Mi-171E/Mi-171A2 respectively, illustrating the popularity of the platform in Bangladesh. And also, the Bangladesh Air Force is the largest operator of the Mi-171 in Bangladesh today with over 50 examples in service.
The fact that the Bangladesh Air Force already has facilities to maintain Russian helicopters from the Mi-series is another huge advantage for the Mi-28NE/NM over the other competitors.
Another significant advantage of the Mi-28NM over the existing attack helicopters of other countries is the fact that it is debuting long-range ATGM such as the Chrysanthemum-VM. This will allow the Mi-28NE/NM to engage armoured targets at a range of up to 10 km.
What makes the Mi-28NE/NM rise above the rest is the fact that it will soon be capable of firing the R-74M IR air-to-air missile that can be used to engage UAVs and other helicopters.
Interestingly the Mi-28NM has already been tested over Syria alongside the Mi-35M.
The old favourite T-129B, being marketed aggressively by the Turkish is the main competitor of the Mi-28NE/NM if economic and geopolitical considerations are taken into account beyond the technical proficiencies.
Russia has the capacity to offer Bangladesh a second defence credit package however, Turkey cannot offer loans, and they prefer to allow payments on installments, which is also acceptable by the Bangladesh Army.
As the Army will initially obtain only three attack helicopters the initial cost of procurement will not be a major issue.
Whatever the Bangladesh Army decides on, we believe both the T-129B and Mi-28NE/NM will offer an extensive firepower upgrade besides a newfound operational flexibility.
Such platforms can be used as response tools in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in CIO role, conventional military operations, and even in UN peacekeeping missions.
PS: We note that Chinese CAIC is also offering the Z-10, however being already declined by the Bangladesh Air Force it may not be shortlisted at all, thus we chose to leave it out of this paper. We also did not delve into the technical aspect in this article, as we value your limited time.