Bell and BAE Systems have teamed to offer the AH-1Z Viper as an option to replace Australia’s Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) fleet.
A request for information was released in mid-2019 for Project Land 4503 that wants to see 29 new ARH replace the 22 Tigers in the Australian Army’s fleet.
Javier Ball, Global Military Sales and Strategy Manager at Bell told MON that Viper has marinisation “built into the design” and among other features this means that the avionics, ordinance and other systems have electromagnetic hardening so they do not interfere with existing ship systems.
This capability is important because Australian defence strategy is shifting from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific and this means that the ARH are likely to spend more time deployed on ships like the Royal Australian Navy’s Canberra-class landing helicopter dock ships.
Ball said that the AH-1Z has an air-to-air and air-to-ground capability that can be used simultaneously and can move from afloat and land operations ashore seamlessly.
An Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of 12 aircraft is desire by 2026 with full operational capability expected in 2028 and Ball indicated that Bell could achieve these dates earlier if desired and that the aircraft would be able to utilise future upgrades available to the USMC Viper aircraft.
Rowan Tink, senior business development for land systems at BAE Systems Australia told MON that should the Commonwealth down-select Viper then BAE Systems will be responsible for maintenance, repair and overhaul, and that service personnel would be trained in multifunctional maintenance roles that do not require contractor support while deployed on extended operations.
The Boeing Apache AH-64E is a rival contender although an upgraded version of the Tiger from Airbus is not thought to be under consideration.