The Kamov Ka-50 Black Shark (NATO reporting name: "Hokum A") is a single-seat Russian attack helicopter with the distinctive coaxial rotor system of the Kamov design bureau. It was designed in the 1980s and adopted for service in the Russian army in 1995. It is currently manufactured by the Progress company of Arseniev.
During the late-1990s, Kamov and Israeli Air Industries developed a tandem-seat cockpit version, the Kamov Ka-50-2 Erdogan (Turkish for "Born Warrior"), to compete in Turkey's attack helicopter competition. Kamov later designed another two-seat variant, the Kamov Ka-52 Alligator (NATO reporting name: "Hokum B").
Like other Kamov helicopters, it features Kamov's characteristic contra-rotating co-axial rotor system, which removes the need for the entire tail-rotor assembly and improves the aircraft's aerobatic qualities -- it can perform loops, rolls, and “the funnel” (circle-strafing) where the aircraft maintains a line-of-sight to target while flying circles of varying altitude, elevation, and airspeed around it. Using two rotors means that a smaller rotor with slower moving rotor tips can be used compared to a single rotor design. Since the speed of the advancing rotor tip is a primary limitation to the maximum speed of a helicopter, this allows a faster maximum speed than helicopters such as the AH-64. The elimination of the tail rotor is a qualitative advantage because the torque-countering tail rotor can use up to 30% of engine power. Furthermore, the vulnerable boom and rear gearbox are fairly common causes of helicopter losses in combat (as proven in Vietnam); the Black Shark's entire transmission presents a comparatively small target to ground fire. Kamov maintains that the co-axial drive assembly is built to survive hits from 23 mm ammunition like the other vital parts of the helicopter. The zero native torque also allows the aircraft to be fairly immune to wind strength and direction, and to have an unsurpassed turn rate in all travel speed envelopes.
The single seat configuration was considered too revolutionary to be adopted by NATO. The first two Ka-50 prototypes had false windows painted on the first two prototypes. The "windows" evidently worked as the first western reports of the aircraft were wildly inaccurate. According to the Air Force Magazine Soviet Aerospace Almanac 1989, the "DoD states that this helicopter has not been observed carrying antitank guided weapons. Instead, it is thought to have a primary air-to-air role (an assessment that is not universally accepted)... Like other combat helicopters, 'hokum' has a crew of two, in tandem, with an elevated rear seat."
For improved pilot survivability the Ka-50 is fitted with a NPP Zvezda K-37-800 ejection seat, which is a rare feature for a helicopter. Before the rocket in the ejection seat kicks in, rotor blades are blown away by explosive charges in the rotor disc and the canopy is similarly jettisoned.
The first Ka-50 prototype was nicknamed "Werewolf", however Kamov's official name for the type is "Black Shark". As the Soviet Union's collapse vastly reduced military spending before Ka-50 could go into full-scale production, a relatively small number of these aircraft have been built. Reportedly Ka-50's development took place in record time, as Kamov had the forethought of placing liaison engineers at major component suppliers and systems subcontractors.
The Ka-50 and its modifications have been chosen as the special forces support helicopter while Mi-28 has become main army's gunship. The production of Ka-50 was recommenced in 2006.
In 1997, Israeli Air Industries (IAI) in cooperation with the Kamov bureau entered a Turkish design competition for a $4 billion contract for 145 (later changed to 50) combat helicopters. The helicopter designed for the competition became the Ka-50-2 Erdogan, a tandem cockpit twin-seater variant of the Ka-50 that featured a modern, Israeli-made "glass cockpit" avionics and a turret-mounted side-folding (for landing clearance) 30mm cannon as opposed to the fixed cannon of the Ka-50. (A similar Italian turret is also offered as a modification to the Ka-50.) The Erdogan beat the Eurocopter and Apache helicopters, but lost to an improved version of AH-1 Cobra. At the end the contract went to the Italian A-129 Mangusta. Kamov is still looking for a buyer, since the Russian military does not have the funding to purchase it themselves.
Because of limited night-time capability of the original Ka-50 "Shkval" TV sighting and targeting system, modified versions of single-seat Ka-50 were built. They were named Ka-50N ("Nochnoy", rus. "Night") and Ka-50Sh ("Shar", rus. "Sphere" - because of spherical FLIR turret). Many variants were tried, on some original "Shkval" was supplemented by thermal imaging system, while on others - completely replaced by "Samshite" day-and-night system (also used on Ka-52), including French SAGEM or Thomson thermal imagers. None of those entered mass production so far.
The Ka-52 is another modification of the basic Ka-50 design. It features a two-place side-by-side cockpit and is designed to detect targets and redistribute them among supporting Ka-50. In comparison to the original Ka-50, it has a somewhat "softer" nose profile due to the wider cockpit, reduced cockpit armor, and large nose-mounted radome. Equipment includes radar with two antennas - mast-mounted for aerial targets and nose-mounted for ground targets, and "Samshite" day-and-night TV/thermal sighting system in two spherical turrets (one over the cockpit and second under the nose). The Ka-52 retains the side mounted cannon and six wing mounted hardpoints of the original Ka-50.
The fall of the Soviet Union prevented the Ka-52 from going into full scale production. Currently only a handful of them exist. Twelve "Ka-52" are planned for purchase to 2015.
The main armament are the twelve laser-guided Vikhr anti-tank missiles with a maximum range of some 8 km. The laser guidance is reported to be virtually jam-proof and the system features automatic guidance to target enabling evasive movement immediately after missile launch. The fire control system automatically shares all target information among the four Black Sharks of a typical flight in real time, allowing one helicopter to engage a target spotted by another, and the system also can input target information from ground-based forward scouts with man-portable target designation gear. The integrated 30mm cannon is semi-rigidly fixed on the helicopter's side, movable only slightly in elevation and azimuth. The aircraft's agility allows the weapon control system to turn (the entire helicopter and) the cannon at the target acquired in the pilot's helmet sight about as fast as the cannon turret of the Apache or the Mi-28 turns. The semi-rigid mounting improves the cannon's accuracy, giving the 30mm a longer practical range and better hit ratio at medium ranges than with a free-turning turret mount.
In January 2001, the Ka-50 saw its first combat operation, as it fired on enemy positions in Chechnya. Later, it would undertake several missions inside that war zone, although not as much as the more numerous Mil Mi-24 which is perhaps better suited to the more anti-guerrilla-type operations undertaken there. Because of lack of combat-ready Ka-52 (which was intended for target detection and coordination of Ka-50 attacks), a modified Ka-29 aerial command post was used, with reconaissanse and targeting equipment installed. Ka-50s have shown excellent manouevrability in mountain environment.