To deal with the mighty U.S. Navy, the Iranian Navy has a special tactic: using hundreds of missile boats. Iranian small, high-speed boats are ready to plunge into the US fleet like a swarm of bees. In response to the bees, the United States also has dangerous weapons: the AH-1Z Viper. This attack helicopter was deployed by the US Navy in the Persian Gulf, ready to deal with Iranian high-speed boats.
Upon entering the Strait of Hormuz in August 2019, the USS Boxer amphibious assault ship had a monumental show of force. A squadron of AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters full of weapons took off in formation. Far from the flight deck, there was also an armor vehicle, ready to fight. The AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter squadron carrying the AGM-114 Hellfire missile is estimated to provide more effective coping with hundreds of high-speed boats from the Iranian navy. The Viper helicopters will operate several dozen kilometers from the mother ship. They can easily form a shield to prevent any Iranian high speed boat from passing through.
H-1 helicopter upgrade program
The AH-1Z Viper, also known as Zulu Cobra, is the most modern version of the famous AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. In 1996, the US government launched an H-1 helicopter upgrade program for the US Marine Corps. Bell helicopter company has been awarded a contract to design and upgrade the AH-1W and UH-1N. Finally released AH-1Z and UH-1Y. Both helicopters share a number of architectural and electronic components. AH-1Z is the next development step based on AH-1W. The first flight was in December 2000 and officially entered the US Marine Corps in 2012. Inheriting the preeminent features of its predecessor AH-1W Super Cobra, AH-1Z is a valuable upgrade version, which better meets combat requirements in modern warfare.
Upgrades on the AH-1Z Viper
Because it is an upgraded version, the appearance of AH-1Z and its predecessor is not much different. The cockpit is still a tandem seating arrangement, the pilot sits in the rear and the gunner is in the front. The digital cockpit layout of the pilots is identical. The most valuable upgrade of the AH-1Z is the integrated avionics system, developed by Northrop Grumman. The system includes two mission computers and an automatic flight control system. The crew stations use multifunctional liquid crystal displays. The navigation suite includes an embedded GPS inertial navigation system, a digital map system and Meggitt’s low-airspeed air data subsystem, which allows ωεɑρσռs delivery when hovering. The crew are equipped with the Thales “Top Owl” helmet-mounted sight and display system. The Lockheed Martin Target Sight System incorporates a third-generation FLIR sensor, provides target sighting in day, night, or adverse weather conditions.
The flight capability of the AH-1Z has also improved significantly through the use of the 4-blade main rotor instead of the two blades on previous versions. New rotor system uses composite material, which have an increased ballistic survivability, and there is a semiautomatic folding system for storage aboard amphibious assault ships. Its two redesigned wing stubs are longer, helping to carry more weapons. The undercarriage is of the fixed skid arrangement as in the orignal. Other features that help AH-1Z increase survival on the battlefield, including the Hover Infrared Suppression System to cover engine exhausts, countermeasure dispensers, radar warning, incoming missile warning, and on-fuselage laser spot warning systems.
AH-1Z Viper Performance
To ensure the maneuverability of the helicopter, Bell equipped Viper with two new General Electric T700-GE-401C turboshaft engines, delivering 1,800 horsepower each. This attack helicopter can reach a maximum speed of 337 km/h, a range of 425 km or up to 715 km with external fuel tanks. Designed to operate from amphibious assault ships, helicopter fuselage and exterior components are coated to avoid corrosion during prolonged service at sea.
AH-1Z Viper Armament
Viper’s weapon is quite versatile, it can carry about 2 tons of various weapons on stub-wings. On each stub-wing there are three hard points. Each wingtip station can carry an AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile. Other hard points can carry AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, pods with 70 mm unguided rockets. It can be also fitted with free-fall bombs, including the Mk.77 incendiary bombs. Another weapon is a 20mm three-barrel cannon on the chin.
The ωεɑρσռ of the AH-1Z is enhanced by the helmet-mounted sight and display system. The AN/APG-78 Longbow fire control radar can also be mounted on a wingtip station, combined with the automatic flight control station. Upgrades on the AH-1Z provided the US Marine Corps with a powerful attack platform. It has improved survivability and can find targets at longer ranges and attack them with precision weapons.
What is the future for AH-1Z Viper?
Each Viper costs about $ 31 million, which is much cheaper than an AH-64E Apache. AH-1Z can more easily reach foreign customers. Currently, Viper’s main operator is the United States Marine Corps. Next will be Bahrain and Czech Republic. On 30 April 2020, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced it had received U.S. State Department approval and notified Congress of a possible sale to the Philippines of either six AH-1Z attack helicopters and related equipment for an estimated cost of $450 million.
However, as we all know, the financial capacity of the Philippines is a major barrier to the implementation of this agreement. Washington remains Manila’s most important ally, though the two countries have been at odds since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016. Most of the country’s weapons are US-made, and has become outdated. The Philippines is seeking new arms suppliers to modernize its forces, in part to accommodate a tight budget and to reduce dependence on Washington. American weapons are good, but they are expensive, not everyone can buy them.