Boeing has been formally awarded a contract for the manufacture of 24 AH-6i Little Bird light attack/reconnaissance helicopters for Saudi Arabia.
The contract, which was first revealed by Boeing in late 2013 but only announced by the US Department of Defense (DoD) on 29 August, is valued at USD234.7 million and covers the procurement of long-lead items, an initial spares package, and ground support equipment. Work will be complete by 31 December 2016.
Although not disclosed in the DoD contract announcement, the end-user will be the Saudi Arabia National Guard (SANG), which is buying the AH-6i as part of a wider build-up of its rotary-winged capabilities that includes the procurement of 12 AH-64E attack helicopters and 24 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk transport helicopters. This deal marks the first sale of the AH-6i for Boeing, although Jordan has signed a letter of intent for 18 such helicopters with an option for a further six.
Based on the 1960s-era Hughes Model 369 (OH-6 Cayuse in US Army service), the AH-6i features an enhanced powerplant, payload, and avionics package.
The new full-authority digital engine control (FADEC)-equipped Rolls-Royce 250-C30R/3M powerplant (combined with a six-bladed main rotor assembly with composite blades) gives the helicopter the ability to 'hover out of ground effect' (HOGE) at 6,000 ft and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (the US Army's 6k/95 benchmark) with a typical mission weight of 1,800 kg (comprising two crew members, full fuel, and weapons), making it well suited for operating on hot and high environments.
Compared with previous Little Bird incarnations that are typically fitted with twin-station weapon's 'planks', the AH-6i can carry four weapon systems (two on each side). Integrated weapons include the Dillon M134D 7.62 mm Gatling gun, General Dynamics GAU-19 12.7 mm Gatling gun, FN Herstal M3P 12.7 mm chain gun, Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, as well as a variety of seven-shot 'dumb' or laser-guided 70 mm rocket systems. The AH-6i is also equipped with a chin-mounted L-3 Wescam MX-15Di electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret.
The AH-6i's avionics are based on the same software as the Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopter, making for improved performance and interoperability.