From the iconic Bell AH-1 Cobra in 1967 to the modern combat platforms of today, attack helicopter design has undergone a remarkable evolution. In 2023, we witness the culmination of these advancements as we present the Top 10 attack helicopters in descending order starting with the 10th place holder and finishing with a Top 1.
Discover the essential elements that define a modern attack helicopter, including tandem seats, armored crew compartments, potent armaments, and state-of-the-art sensor suites. These helicopters also integrate cutting-edge technologies, such as short-range air defense systems.
Stay tuned as we explore the extraordinary capabilities and cutting-edge features that make these attack helicopters the ultimate force in military aviation.
10. Denel Rooivalk
The South African Rooivalk is based on French Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma. As such, the design is highly dependent on French technology and spare parts. With the bold intention of manufacturing one of the best attack helicopters globally, Denel Aviation succeeded in producing an aircraft on par with its rivals. Armed with highly sophisticated indigenous Mokopa anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), the Rooivalk outmatches everything South Africa could potentially face in its geopolitical region.
With only 12 examples produced and financial difficulties shadowing operational readiness, the Rooivalk is a far-reaching idea, but Denel’s technological reach somewhat exceeds its grasp.
9. Changhe Z-10
Lighter than its contemporaries, the Chinese Changhe Z-10 was designed with input from the Russian Kamov design bureau. It is the first indigenous attack helicopter produced in China. A fresh design with an introduction dating back to 2012, numerically, it already covers the needs of the Chinese armed forces.
So far, over 200 have been produced for the People’s Liberation Army.
8. Mil Mi-24
For the past four decades, the aging yet iconic design of the Mi-24 helicopter has been a recurring aerial image in Asian and African conflicts. This versatile platform has served numerous nations and paramilitary groups, becoming the equivalent of the AKM assault rifle in the helicopter world.
An interesting development occurred on August 25, 2020, when a new variant, the Mi-35P, commenced serial production for an undisclosed foreign customer. With a staggering 60 operators worldwide and a production count exceeding 2600 units, the Mi-24 holds the record as the most manufactured attack helicopter in history.
7. Agusta A129 Mangusta
The A129, an Italian creation, holds the distinction of being Western Europe’s inaugural domestically manufactured attack helicopter. Following the conclusion of the Cold War, the Italian design underwent a transformation to align with NATO’s changing strategic objectives. With the diminished likelihood of encountering a Soviet armor onslaught, the aircraft was streamlined, resulting in reduced ballistic protection. During its prime, it was regarded as a viable counterpart to the American AH-64 Apache.
Equipped with standard NATO armaments like Hellfire and TOW ATGMs, the A129 boasted compatibility with allied forces. A total of 60 units were produced, with over 30 of them still in active service to this day.
6. Kamov Ka-52
Probably the most unique attack helicopter in service today, the Ka-52 is a wildly unconventional design, with tandem side-by-side seating, ejection seats, dual contra-rotating main rotors, and no tail blades. It is one of the most maneuverable helicopters of any kind in the world today.
With an advanced battlefield management system, the Ka-52 can serve a command and control role for a larger helicopter group of Mi-24s and Mi-28s as a target detector and designator. In addition to its unique characteristics, the Ka-52 employs all the firepower expected from a modern attack helicopter, albeit its autocannon is mounted in a fixed position, lacking the flexibility of a turret.
There are currently over 196 units manufactured, with Egypt, North Macedonia, and Russia serving as the current operators.
A Turkish modernization of the Agusta A129 Mangusta, the T129 shares only the fuselage with its Italian counterpart. The internals are proprietary Turkish technology with upgraded avionics, airframe, and weapons.
76 units are in service today. With interest from multiple nations, including Qatar, the Philippines, and Brazil, T129 is a seemingly more successful international version of its Italian predecessor.
4. Eurocopter Tiger
A joint Franco-German development, the Tiger is the second and the most recent attack helicopter to emerge from Western Europe. With more than 180 units produced, it is the most successful and widespread European design. Employing a composite layout, 80% of the airframe is made of carbon laminates, Kevlar, and honeycomb-shaped structures. Configured with a plethora of Western missiles, rockets, and a French cannon, the Tiger is employed by German, French, Spanish, and Australian forces. It must be noted that Germany is planning to retire all the Tiger models between 2031 and 2038.
Scheduled for the first deliveries in 2029, the Tiger Mk3 upgrade will encompass several significant enhancements. Notably, the upgrade will include the adoption of a standardized anti-tank missile, along with additional improvements to the communication system.
3. Bell AH-1Z Viper
The American Viper is a third-generation descendant of the venerable Bell AH-1 Cobra, the predecessor of all modern attack helicopters. The US Marines Corps’ asset traces its lineage back to 1965. The latest model in the class-defining design, the Viper proves to be a competent and long-lasting platform.
Introduced in 2010, the Marines currently employ 189 Vipers, with additional orders from Bahrain and the Czech Republic bringing the total number of built Vipers to 195.
2. Mil Mi-28NM Havoc
The newest Russian attack helicopter is supplementing the iconic Mi-24 and the unique Ka-50 series. With an exceptionally long development time, from the first flight to introduction having passed 27 years, the Havoc has finally shaped itself into an all-around efficient design. It is primarily known for its armor, with windshields withstanding a hit from 14.5×114mm cartridges.
As of 2023, it is in service with Russia, Iraq, and Algeria. Currently, there are 126 units of this type built.
Top – 1 AH-64E Apache Guardian
The US Army’s workhorse, the Apache is the most numerous and widespread attack helicopter of the Western world and its allies. As of 2020, over 2400 were built for the US and its partners, including Israel, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and others. The most experienced and proven Western warfighter in its category today, the Apache has seen action in every major American and NATO conflict since its introduction.
The holy trinity of trusty offenses: Hellfire missiles, M320 chain gun with 1200 rounds of 30 mm ammunition, and Hydra rockets – a highly reliable and successful platform, the Apache is here to stay at least until 2048.
Note: This article has been recently updated by Rosita Mickeviciute on July 18, 2023, to ensure accuracy and relevance. The following changes have been implemented to enhance the content: revised introduction, updated photographs, and refreshed information to reflect the most current data available.