US Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 received three upgraded Bell Helicopters AH-1Z VIPER attack helicopters in Hawaii on 19 December 2017. The AH-1Z aircraft is an updated version of the AH-1W Super COBRA, bringing new capabilities and features into the squadron’s arsenal. “The AH-1Z’s are replacing the AH-1W’s, which are essentially from the 1980’s,” US Marine Corps (USMC) Cpt. Julian Tucker, the squadron’s ground training officer, said. “Some big takeaways on the new aircraft can be summarised into greater fuel capacity, ordnance capabilities, and situational awareness.”
The AH-1Z can carry and deploy 16 HELLFIRE missiles, effectively doubling the capacity of its predecessor, the AH-1W. Updated avionics systems and sensors are another important aspect of the upgrade. The upgraded capabilities allow the squadron and USMC Base Hawaii to further project power and reach in the Asia-Pacific region.
The rotorcraft includes one 20mm M197 3-barreled Gatling cannon in the A/A49E-7 turret (750 round ammo capacity) and has up to six pylon stations on stub wing. It can carry the following rockets: 2.75in (70mm) HYDRA 70 or APKWS II rockets, mounted in LAU-68C/A (7 shot) or LAU-61D/A (19 shot) launchers (up to 76 unguided or 28 guided rockets total). Up to 16 missiles cam be mounted in four 4-round M272 missile launchers, two on each wing. Next to HELLFIREs, AIM-9 SIDEWINDEE air-to-air missiles are also forseen.
“With the new turret sight system sensor, we can see threats from much further out than before,” Cpt. Tucker continued. “Obviously, that’s a huge advance for our situational awareness.”
USMC Maj. Christopher Myette, the assistant operations officer for the squadron, piloted one of the new VIPERs back from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. “Having the displays under glass is a big change from the old steam gauges,” Maj. Myette noted on the new digital display systems. “Another thing you notice is that in the electrical optical sensor, there’s a night and day difference.”
The updated electrical systems create a new situation for marines like Sgt. Jeremy Ortega, an avionics technician with the squadron. “The new Zulus incorporate systems from the AH-1W and the UH-1Y and essentially combine them,” he said. “The upgraded turret sight systems create much more in-depth images, which allow pilots to pinpoint targets better and get more descriptive, accurate pictures.”
“Maintenance Marines have done an outstanding job of accepting the new aircraft,” Maj. Myette continued. “They have really done the majority of the heavy lifting on this project, and we definitely appreciate them.”
Although there will be a learning curve working with the new system due to its modernity, Sgt. Ortega said he is excited to work with the upgraded helicopters: “Times are changing and things are evolving. It’s time for the AH-1W’s to go to bed. And, the AH-1Z’s are the perfect candidate to replace them.”
Operators include the USMC and Pakistan Army Aviation (three received in mid-2017 and nine to be received by 2018). In September 2008, the US Navy requested an additional 46 airframes for the USMC, bringing the total number ordered to 226. In 2010, the USMC planned to order 189 AH-1Zs with 58 of them being new airframes, with deliveries to continue until 2019.