AH-1W/AH-1Z SUPERCOBRA ATTACK HELICOPTER, USA
The AH-1W SuperCobra is the US Marines' attack helicopter. It is supplied by Bell Helicopter Textron, and entered service in 1985. As well as the US Marine Corps, the SuperCobra is operational with the Turkish Land Forces and the armed forces of Taiwan. The AH-1W was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003.
A major upgrade of the Bell Super Cobra known as the H-1 Program is underway. The program calls for the remanufacture of the US Marine Corps fleet of 180 AH-1W Super Cobra and 100 UH-1N utility helicopters to an advanced four-bladed configuration. The existing two-bladed, semi-rigid, teetering rotor system is being replaced with a four-bladed, hingeless, bearingless rotor system. First flight of the AH-1Z took place in December 2000. The AH-1W entered low rate initial production (LRIP) in October 2003. Three AH-1W helicopters were remanufactured to AH-1Z standard and are in flight testing at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Sea trials in May 2005 included the first shipboard landing on USS Bataan, Wasp Class amphibious assault ship. One AH-1Z was delivered to the USMC in October 2005 to begin Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL) in early 2006. Full-rate production is scheduled for 2006 with initial operating capability in June 2009. The improvement in flight characteristics provided by the four bladed configuration has led to increases in flight envelope, maximum speed, vertical rate-of-climb, payload and rotor vibration level.
The Turkish Army selected the AH-1Z King Cobra in July 2000 with a request for 50 out of a total requirement for 145 helicopters. In May 2004, it was announced that the acquisition was to be cancelled. The helicopters were to be built in Turkey by Tusas Aerospace Industries (TAI).
The communications suite combines the new US Navy RT-1824 integrated radio, UHF/VHF, COMSEC and modem in a single unit. The navigation suite includes an Embedded GPS Inertial (EGI), a low airspeed air data subsystem, which allows weapons delivery when hovering, and digital map.
In June 2002, Thales Avionics' TopOwl helmet-mounted display system was chosen for the USMC AH-1Z. The first system was delivered in January 2003. TopOwl, also fitted on Tiger, NH90 and Rooivalk helicopters, has integrated Gen IV image intensifier and FLIR capability and provides transition from day to night use at the push of a button.
The Super Cobra was the first attack helicopter to qualify both the Sidewinder air-to-air missile and the Sidearm anti-radiation missile. Both missiles can use the same LAU-7 rail launcher. Sidearm has a range of more than 15km. AIM-9L Sidewinder is an all-aspect, short-range, air-to-air missile produced by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. The missile has a range of 15km.
The Super Cobra can fire the Hydra family of unguided 70 mm rockets or the larger 127 mm Zuni rocket bombs. From 2008, it will be armed with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), a guided version of the Hydra. The US Army re-opened the competition for the APKWS in September 2005 and a decision on contractor is expected in March 2006.
The Super Cobra carries a three-barrel, 20mm Gatling gun for close range (up to 2km) engagement and 750 rounds of ammunition. With the gun in a fixed forward position, the pilot can aim by manoeuvring the helicopter. Either crew member can slave the turret to the helmet-mounted sight and aim the gun by looking at the target.
The AH-1Z for the USMC will be armed with: 16 Hellfire missiles, six AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, 70mm rocket pods (7- and 19-shot), and a 20mm gun.
Lockheed Martin is developing a longer range Target Sight System (TSS) for the AH-1Z to replace the NTS. TSS includes a third-generation four field-of-view FLIR based on a 3-5 micron staring array, CCD colour TV, eyesafe laser rangefinder / designator and multi-target autotracker.
Longbow International (a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman) is developing the Cobra Radar System for the AH-1Z, based on the Longbow millimetre wave radar on the AH-64D Apache. Cobra is a pod-based radar that can be mounted on a wingtip or in a stores position. Cobra can automatically search, detect, classify and prioritise multiple moving and stationary targets. It has a range of 8km against moving and 4km against stationary targets.