Earlier this month, Bell Helicopter Textron was awarded a US Naval Air Systems Command contract worth $240 million covering the supply of 12 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters to the Kingdom of Bahrain. The sale was notified to US Congress in April 2018. The request included the provision of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and BAE Systems APKWS II laser-guided rockets. The AH-1Zs are to be equipped with the Optimized Top Owl helmet-mounted display from Thales.
The Royal Bahraini Air Force has operated the earlier-generation AH-1E/F/P Cobra for many years and maintains around 30, including training airframes, serving with two squadrons of the Helicopter Wing at Rifa’a air base. They are to be retained after the AH-1Zs have been delivered – a process that is expected to get under way in 2022.
The AH-1Z represents a complete overhaul of the Cobra concept. Also known as the ‘Zulu’, the Viper has General Electric T700-GE-401C engines driving a new four-bladed main rotor. The mission system is centred on a Northrop Grumman computer and integrates two large multi-function displays in both fore and aft cockpits. The main sensor system is the Lockheed Martin AVQ-30 Target Sight System. The avionics system is essentially similar to that of the UH-1Y Venom utility attack/assault helicopter. The Northrop Grumman mission suite is also used in the AH-1Fs that have been upgraded for the Royal Jordanian Air Force.
Bahrain is the second export customer for the AH-1Z, Pakistan having earlier signed for 12.
The principal customer is the US Marine Corps, which has a requirement for 189 helicopters.