Attack Helicopters

Attack helicopters have become a staple of modern warfare and are etched into the public consciousness through their appearances in many Hollywood blockbusters, military documentaries and newsreels. They have played an essential role in several recent conflicts, from the Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm to the War on Terrorism, after having cut their teeth in the Korean and Vietnam wars. 

These early engagements demonstrated the versatility of these agile and precise machines in providing close air support to troops and providing anti-tank and anti-armor capabilities.

During World War II, it was noted that smaller, slower aircraft could hit targets more accurately, leading to the conversion of lightweight fixed-wing models such as the Piper Cub, which became the L-3 Grasshopper aircraft. Surveillance equipment is equipped with a bazooka. This idea was expanded upon with the development of the helicopter in the 1950s. They were soon given limited combat capabilities and, by the 1960s, had matured into the full-fledged attack helicopters we know today, starting with the American Bell AH-1 and the Russian Mil Mi-24.

In the years since then, the attack helicopter has seen significant advancements. By classifying them, it is easy to follow the evolution of these extraordinary machines and the advancement of their capabilities. The following attack helicopters are those that have had the most influence on the war and are classified according to their specifications, performance, armament and operational history.

Here is the Ranking of the 12 Best Attack Helicopters used in war.

12. Changhe Z-10

Ranking of the 12 Best Attack Helicopters used in war.

The Changhe Z-10 is China’s first indigenous attack helicopter, designed for anti-armor and close air support missions as the People’s Liberation Army’s response to the American AH-1 Cobra. However, compared to its American counterpart, it is much larger, heavier and less agile. It has approximately 50% of the firepower of the Cobra, making it a statistically poor adversary despite being produced about 40 years later.

At 7,500 kilograms, it is even considerably heavier than its contemporaries, the Eurocopter Tiger and the A129 Mangusta, and China did not meet the weight requirements for the Changhe Z-10 to be considered for use by the militaries of the countries of the EU.

Despite its shortcomings, the Changhe Z-10 incorporates modern avionics and weaponry, which has increased its reputation on the world stage. These include helmet-mounted optics, radar warning systems, ejection seats, stealth properties and advanced GPS navigation. Its armament consists of a 23-millimeter machine gun, rockets and missiles, with a payload of up to 1,500 kilograms when fully loaded.

Although China is currently embroiled in conflict and tensions along its borders, the Changhe Z-10 has seen limited action. It ranks last on this list, given its lower capabilities compared to its peers.

11. T129 Atak

Ranking of the 12 Best Attack Helicopters used in war.

The T129 ATAK is a Turkish attack helicopter developed in collaboration with Italy and Turkey and built by AgustaWestland. It is a two-seat, twin-engine and multipurpose model that performs attack, armed reconnaissance and precision attack missions. It is built on a lightweight aluminum alloy chassis and designed to operate in all types of weather conditions while excelling in hot conditions. As a result, this versatile helicopter has attracted interest from countries in Asia and the Middle East.

The T129 ATAK differs from its Mangusta brother with its modern features. It incorporates the latest night flight instruments and thermal imaging cameras and features updated avionics, including a helmet-mounted display and advanced targeting systems. Its weaponry is also cutting-edge, with an arsenal of up to 76 rockets, laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, long-range anti-tank missiles, a 500mm cannon, and Stinger air-to-air missiles.

The T129 ATAK is currently used by the Turkish, Pakistani and Philippine armies. However, it has yet to prove itself in a major conflict, with one unit shot down in 2018 over Afrin in Syria while supporting the Free Syrian Army. As such, it is one of our lower-ranking options.

10. Bell AH-1 Cobra

Ranking of the 12 Best Attack Helicopters used in war.

Few helicopters have had as rich a history as the Bell AH-1 Cobra. It was the world’s first attack helicopter, created for the US Marine Corps, which played a crucial role during the Vietnam War (known as the “Helicopter War”). It gave rise to various application variants, with additional training seats, four and five rotors, retractable skids and different armament configurations. Updates to the original Cobra, such as the twin-engine AH-1Z Viper, remain in service after its successful career.

As a result of the large-scale destruction of helicopters at the beginning of the Vietnam War, there was a need for a heavily armed unit that would remain agile and fast. The AH-1 Cobra went into production next, and by June 1967, it was already in full production. Weighing 14,750 pounds, it could fly at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, reached speeds of 175 miles per hour, and had a relatively long range of 375 miles.

Throughout the war, the Bell AH-1 Cobra flew countless sorties in support of ground troops and provided air support to troop transport helicopters, such as the ubiquitous Bell UH-1 “Huey.” He participated in the conflicts in Panama, Grenada and, later, in the Gulf War. Although the original “Snake” left a significant mark on history as a stalwart of American fighting forces, it has been succeeded by improved variants, relegating it to a lower position in this ranking.

09. A129 Mangusta

Attack helicopters

The aptly named Mangusta translates from Italian to “mongoose,” and like the cunning mammalian snake-killer, this attack helicopter has considerable capacity to strike and decimate its enemy. It was the first attack helicopter designed and manufactured entirely in Europe, and AgustaWestland continued to build this Italian aircraft almost 50 years after its conception.

One of the most notable claims of the A129 Mangusta is that it was the first helicopter to use a computer management system. This feature made its handling considerably easier. Since then, it has become standard equipment on modern helicopters in all segments. With a pilot and a gunner as a crew, it is armed with up to eight Hellfire missiles, rockets, Stinger air-to-air missiles and cannons and has advanced night vision capabilities.

The A129 Mangusta offers anti-armor and close air support capabilities and has seen service with NATO in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It is still used mainly by Italy and Türkiye. Although undeniably effective in its functions, it is getting a bit old and is being overtaken by some of its counterparts, such as the Eurocopter Tiger and the Boeing Apache.

08. Mi-24

Attack helicopters

In the mid-1960s, around the same time as the development of the AH-1 Cobra, the Soviet Union was already planning its own attack helicopter to rival that of the United States. It was christened the Mi-24 (later given the NATO code “Hind”) and was a robust, heavily armed unit that, unlike its American counterpart, could transport troops.

First used during the 1977 Ogaden conflict between Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia, the Mi-24 was deployed to Afghanistan, which proved invaluable in the 1979 Soviet-Afghan War. There it provided essential support to ground troops who could not easily move through the harsh Afghan terrain and to rescue the rebel forces who had entered the impenetrable hills, using their cannons, missiles, rockets and bombs.

Since then, the Mi-24 has seen action in numerous conflicts, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been continually modernized by Russia with more modern variants. However, several armies, including the Russian one, continue to use the original, which operates alongside its more modern iterations.

07. Mil Mi-35

Attack helicopters

The Russian Mi-35 Hind is a modernized version of the Mi-24 that continues to serve in several countries, combining troop transport and strike capabilities. It offers much superior maneuverability and general performance than its predecessor. Its high-precision weapons provide superior ground support with the ability to identify and destroy targets, perform medical evacuation tasks and transport troops to and from combat zones.

A pilot and a gunner crew the Mi-35 and can carry up to eight soldiers for deployment. Its maximum payload is 2,400 kilograms, and it has advanced avionics, including night vision and satellite-guided navigation capabilities. Its armament includes a 23-millimeter cannon and, optionally, wing-mounted rockets, missiles and additional cannons.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Indian Air Force acquired several Mi-35 Hind helicopters. They soon went into action in Sierra Leone as part of Operation Khukri and later to repel rebel attacks in the Congo. It is also used by the armies of Russia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

06. Bell AH-1WSuper Cobra

Attack helicopters

The AH-1W Super Cobra, an upgrade from the United States Marine Corps AH-1 Cobra, has been a reliable asset in multiple conflicts, including the Gulf War, the humanitarian intervention in Somalia, the invasion of Iraq, and the from Afghanistan. It was launched in 1986 and became known for its anti-ship capability, providing close air-to-ground support to troops in firefights and coordinating ground attacks.

The Super Cobra was the first attack helicopter to feature Sidearm anti-radiation missiles and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, each with a range of 15 kilometers, making it a formidable fighting force in its time. Back in 2003, when the War on Terror was raging in Iraq, several Super Cobras, or “snakes,” as they were called, were tasked with providing air support to Marines on the ground in and around Baghdad and helping to British forces in Basra in the south.

Finally, the Super Cobra squadrons headed to Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, where they were instrumental in ending the war after flying thousands of combat sorties. This was another chapter in the long history of the AH-1W Super Cobra before it was retired in 2020 and replaced by the Bell AH-1Z Viper.

05. Bell AH-1z Viper

Attack helicopters

With the imminent honorable retirement of the AH-1W Super Cobra, the Bell company was tasked with developing a worthy successor, and the result was the AH-1Z Viper. As an upgraded version of the successful American attack helicopter, the AH-1Z features advanced sensors and weaponry, making it a formidable machine that meets the demands of modern armies.

The AH-1Z Viper provides air-to-ground fire support, aerial surveillance and escort duties for troops on the ground, making it a versatile all-rounder. It has integrated avionics with helmet-mounted displays. It incorporates the latest weapons systems, including Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and guided rockets, with long-range sensors to identify targets in all weather conditions. It is safer than its predecessor thanks to the addition of armored seats, self-sealing fuel tanks and an advanced missile and radar warning system, and its crew can fully control it from the front or rear seat.

The Bell AH-1Z Viper has already been deployed in several conflicts, including missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has proven to be very effective in supporting ground troops, thanks mainly to its versatility and maneuverability, and has attracted the interest of many foreign nations, making the AH-1Z an already successful venture for the Bell company.

04. Mil Mi-28 Havoc

Attack helicopters

The Cold War was a fruitful time for military production, and the United States and the Soviet Union allocated significant financial reserves to develop new aircraft and weaponry. Work began on a new Soviet attack helicopter in 1980, but it was abandoned shortly afterward in favor of the Kamov Ka-50 light combat helicopter. The program was not resumed until almost 30 years later, and the modernized Mi-28 Havoc came off the production line in 2008.

After a long wait, the Russian Mi-28 became a formidable attack helicopter designed for anti-armor and close air support missions. It is equipped with advanced armor and weaponry, including its distinctive chin-mounted turret with a 30-millimeter cannon with a maximum range of 4,000 meters and a rate of fire of up to 800 rounds per minute. The Mi-28 is also powerful, with two 2,200-horsepower Russian engines to lift its 11,500 kilograms (fully loaded).

The Mi-28 Havoc has recently seen combat over Ukraine, where its strength has been significantly depleted, often because its anti-tank missiles force them to hover, exposing them to the air defenses of Ukrainian forces.

03. Kamov Ka-50/52 Hokum

Attack helicopters

The Kamov Ka-50 series of helicopters (with the NATO designation “Hokum”) is one of the most sinister attack helicopters, born during the Cold War, when deception was an essential component of military strategy. After a long development period, it entered service in the mid-1990s on a limited basis when Russia was still reeling financially following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Ka-50 (single-seat) and Ka-52 (two-seat) are among the most advanced Russian attack helicopters ever created, with exceptional maneuverability and modern avionics. They are designed for anti-armor and anti-helicopter functions and took an example from the American Apache, with which it shares several similarities in its technology and weaponry. Unlike the Apache, they have twin coaxial rotors, which eliminate the need for a tail rotor and provide excellent maneuverability, which is not affected by high winds and quieter operation.

Before creating the Ka-52 twin-seat variant, the Russians, somewhat amusingly, attempted to trick the competition by painting a second cockpit on the fuselage of the Ka-50. However, they soon realized that it was a genuine article. However, they soon realized that this was a genuine article, and they proved to be a great success, as both machines went on to serve in the Chechnya conflict.

There they effectively eliminated groups of Chechen rebels entrenched at high altitudes. As the most advanced helicopters in the extensive Russian catalog, the Hokum variants occupy one of the top spots on this list.

02. Eurocopter Tiger

Attack helicopters

Less than ten years after Airbus produced the impressive Eurofighter Typhoon fighter, the company produced its sister attack helicopter, the Eurocopter Tiger, as another collaborative effort between France and Germany. It is designed for high-intensity conflicts as a multi-role unit with advanced anti-tank and air-to-air capabilities. It is equally competent in performing various combat roles in day and night conditions.

The Eurocopter Tiger is crewed by two people and, like the Bell AH-1Z Viper, the pilot and gunner can exchange roles. Each of them has access to all flight data through detailed displays, some of which are reflected on their helmet visors, providing operators with an immersive flight experience and full control of weapons and the systems. These include bespoke avionics such as its EUROGRID battle management software and detailed digital maps.

This advanced technology has been used in various conflicts, and the Eurocopter Tiger has seen action in Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya and Afghanistan. It remains Europe’s most advanced attack helicopter, second only to the United States’ best effort.

01. Boeing AH-64 Apache

Attack helicopters

The AH-64 Apache is arguably the most iconic attack helicopter in the world. It is known for its firepower, agility and advanced avionics and has been used extensively in various conflicts, such as the Gulf War and, more recently, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Apache is its primary heavy-division attack helicopter, manufactured for the US military. It is effective in reconnaissance tasks, attacking moving targets and precision attacks in depth, both day and night and in adverse weather conditions.

The Apache’s fearsome armament consists of Hellfire missiles, Hydra air-to-ground rockets and Stinger missiles. Its superior avionics, which increases its lethality and survivability and improve situational awareness thanks to the helmet-mounted display, increase its effectiveness. This also allows the gunner to visualize the target, and the 30-millimeter main chain gun follows the movement of his head and points where he is looking, turning aiming into an extension of the gunner’s vision.

The Boeing AH-64 Apache has achieved a lot in the almost fifty years since its first flight. It has become a legend among its peers for being a machine that consistently outperforms the competition and has been periodically modernized to meet the latest military requirements and integrate the most advanced technology. Therefore, the Apache tops this ranking, as it continues to improve while staying true to its tried and trusted architecture, and it looks like it will be around for many years to come.

Luke Mitchell