The Ka 52 is the most distinctive helicopter in the Russian Air Force.

Since Russia's attack began in February, it has been on the frontline more than any other Russian helicopter.

The Ka-52 appears to have taken the most losses of Russia's helicopter. The British Defense Ministry stated in October that at least 23 Ka 52s had been shot down.

The ministry said that over 25% of the Russian Air Force's in-service Ka 52 fleet was lost in Ukraine.

The Alligator

Russian Kamov Ka-52 helicopter
A Russian Ka-52 helicopter at the Dubai Airshow in November 2021.

The "Alligator" is an improved version of the Ka-50 Black Shark attack helicopter that was introduced in 1995.

The Ka 52 entered service. It has a top speed of 186 mph. It also has ejection seats for its pilots, which are rare features for helicopters.

It can carry up to 4,000 pounds of rockets and missiles. There is a 30mm autocannon mounted on the right side of the plane. The nose-mounted camera for targeting is one of the variant's features.

The Ka 52 is one of Russia's newest helicopters.

Russian Ka-52K helicopter
A Russian Ka-52K and its weapons at the MAKS airshow near Moscow in July 2021.

The deal to pair the naval version with the Mistral-class amphibious ships was canceled due to Russia's annexation of the peninsula.

France and Russia supplied Egypt with the ships and the helicopter.

The Ka 52M was the most recent variant. Russian media says it has a number of improvements, including a longer-range gyro-stabilized opto-electronic target acquisition and identification system.

battlefield videos appear to show the Ka 52's firing a new anti-armor missile this summer, with the Ka 52's armaments also being upgraded.

War performance

Russia Kamov Ka-52 Alligator helicopter
A Ka-52 helicopter over Russia's Krasnodar region in March 2019.
VITALY TIMKIV/AFP via Getty Images

Since Russia launched its attack, the Ka 52s have been important.

They were seen escorting Russian convoys in the first weeks of the war. In the first two months of the war, they were especially useful for hunter-killer missions, flying as far as 50 km into Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Moscow frequently releases footage of Ka 52 operations, as well as other helicopter gunships.

According to a recent Royal United Services Institute report, Ka 52s have seen more intensive use than the other fleets on all fronts in Ukraine.

Russian Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopter in Ukraine
A wrecked Russian Ka-52 helicopter at Hostomel Airport near Kyiv in July.
Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The high operational pace has resulted in a high attrition rate.

According to the UK, 23 Ka 52s have been lost, while Oryx reported 25 as downed by the end of November. According to Oryx's tally, there were only eight Mi-24/-35 and six Mi-28 choppers lost.

The British Defense Ministry says that 25% of the 90 Ka 52s in active service before the war had losses. Russia has a total of 133 Ka 52s according to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The ministry said a lack of top-cover from combat jets was the most likely reason for the disproportionate losses.

Russia's inability to suppress and destroy Ukrainian air defenses has made it hard for Russian jets to work in tandem with helicopter to conduct effective combined-arms operations.

Kamov Ka-52 Alligator military helicopter performs during International Army Games 2016 in Dubrovichi outside Ryazan
A Ka-52 helicopter at International Army Games 2016 in Russia.
REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The Ka 52's outsize losses are a result of a number of deficiencies.

The Ka 52 is vulnerable to missiles and small-arms fire because of its less armor. It's difficult for the helicopter to acquire targets and the accuracy of its weapons is affected by poor vibration dampening. Ka 52s are forced to get closer to targets.

Anti-tank guided missiles require the helicopter to stay almost stationary in order to hit its target. So much so that Ukrainian soldiers appear to have shot down Ka 52s with anti-tank missiles.

Russian forces still need close air support despite the fact that Russia's helicopters have changed tactics in response to the success of the Ukrainian air defense system. The Ukrainians continue to claim that Ka 52 kills.

The losses will likely increase with newer, more modern air-defense systems arriving in the country.