Bell is confident that the in-built maritime capabilities of its AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter will help it succeed in a number of upcoming competitions across the Asia-Pacific region.
Speaking to Jane’s at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX) on 15 October, Javier Ball, international campaign manager, Asia Global Military Sales and Strategy, said that the attack helicopter designed for US Marine Corps (USMC) shipborne operations is tailor-made for three regional requirements.
“We are competing the ‘Z’ in Australia, Japan, and South Korea. These are amphibious assault requirements, and operating from a ship is very different to [a helicopter] living on it,” Ball said, adding, “[Our competition] is modified for maritime operations, but they are not marinised”.
In Australia the AH-1Z has been submitted to fulfil the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter requirement that features a strong maritime component, with operations from the country’s two Canberra-class amphibious assault ships expected. Up to 29 helicopters are required, with an initial operational capability (IOC) of 2025, although Ball noted that Bell could achieve this sooner.
Japan is looking for an attack helicopter to equip a Ground Self-Defense Force rapid reaction brigade. Ball said 30 to 50 helicopters are required, although no timeline has yet been released.
For South Korea, Bell has responded to a request for information (RFI) issued for a new Republic of Korea Marine Corps (RoKMC) Air Group that requires 24 ship-based attack helicopters. A contract is expected in 2021.
As Ball noted, the AH-1Z has been built from the outset to be resistant to corrosion. It also has folding main rotor blades, heavy-duty tie-down points, and has shielded systems so as to be ‘ship-safe’ (the ship’s onboard electronics will not interfere with the helicopter’s hardware and software in the same way as they would an unshielded, land-based helicopter).
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