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Packing a heavy punch: Trends in light utility/light attack helicopter markets

NorthStar Aviation developed its 407 Multirole Helicopter from Bell's 407 model for the UAE Air Force and Air Defence. (NorthStarAviation)

Since the Vietnam War, when the ubiquitous Bell UH-1 ‘Huey' was equipped with forward-firing rockets and guns, helicopters used for engaging ground targets have evolved into two basic categories. The first comprises transport helicopters used for air assault, armed to provide close air support (CAS) for the troops they are landing; a prime example being versions of the Russian Mil Mi-8/17 equipped with rockets and missiles. The second consists of dedicated armed attack and scout helicopters.

Evolving from the AH-1 Cobra, which itself was developed from the UH-1, the modern attack helicopter's core missions are engaging enemy armour and providing CAS to forward troops with anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), rockets, and machine guns/cannon.

Scout helicopters such as the US Army's Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, which operated alongside the Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter fleet until its retirement in 2016, conduct armed reconnaissance of the forward battle area and can engage enemy units with rockets, guns, and even ATGMs if required.

These armed reconnaissance platforms have proven their utility in the role of light attack helicopter, primarily in counter-insurgency operations, and also in the air arms of countries without the resources to acquire and operate attack helicopters in the AH-64 class.

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