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Mean dedicated machines: the need to be able to stop hundreds of armoured fighting vehicles with dedicated attack helicopters has hopefully gone away. What remains is a need for fast rotary-wing aircraft that are both armed and armoured, to perform close air support for ground and amphibious forces, and to escort utility and transport helicopters.

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For the majority of operators, the attack helicopter demand may be moving toward a less expensive, smaller, faster and operationally more flexible platform; a helicopter that exploits advances in rotor and powerplant technology and the gains made possible by lightweight advanced sensors and weapons.

A move to lighter designs may be indicated by Turkey's March 2007 selection of the 5.1-tonne AgustaWestland A129 Mangusta in preference to South Africa's 8.75-tonne Denel Rooivalk (Red Kestrel), having previously eliminated all existing Russian, US and other West European attack helicopters. A desire for greater operational flexibility may be illustrated by sales of multi-role (rather than dedicated anti-tank) versions of the Eurocopter Tiger.

Lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan have led to a demand for armoured attack helicopters to be also capable of extracting personnel from a hostile environment. The Mil Mi-28 has a two/three-man ventral compartment for rescue missions and to transport servicing personnel. Lacking such a facility, British Army WAH-64D Apaches have recently been tested carrying four Royal Marines on their wings, and Italian Army A129s have been flown with two soldiers standing on their main landing gears. On July 2, 2007 a US Army AH-64A rescued the two-man crew of a Bell OH-58D that had been shot down near Baghdad, carrying one of the rescued and the Apache gunner on the wings.

In the following review, the principal current and future attack helicopters are discussed according to region of manufacture.

China

The Z-10 or WZ-10 (Wuzhuang Zhishengji-10) is the PLA Army Aviation's first attack helicopter, a joint development by Changhe Aircraft Industries, Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing and China Helicopter Design Research Institute 602. Work began in 1998, and the first images were published in 2001. Two Z-10 development aircraft were completed (and at least one flew) in 2003, followed by six more in 2004.

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The Z-10 has a tandem-seat configuration, with a five-blade main rotor, a fixed wheeled undercarriage, nose-mounted sensors and chin-mounted gun turret. It is thought to have a gross weight in the five to six-tonne class and two engines of up to 1200 kW, although it is not obvious where these come from. The Pentagon's 2007 report on the 'Military Power of the PRC' states that the Z-10 (which it regards as equal to the Tiger) is still under test, and is expected to be armed with Red Arrow 8E anti-tank guided missiles.

Western Europe

Turkey's adoption of the AgustaWestland A129 as its Tactical Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopter (Atak) marked the end of a selection process that had lasted over a decade.

The Bell AH-1Z was chosen initially, and then dropped in 2004 due to US objections to the aircraft being updated in country. Bell later declined to rebid, since Turkey's offset requirements had become unacceptable to the US. The Eurocopter Tiger, Kamov Ka-50-2 and Mil Mi-28N were subsequently eliminated, and in mid-2006 the A129 was short-listed alongside the Denel Rooivalk.

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To digress, the Roovalk's elimination, partly ascribed to its high unit cost, marked the end to Denel's attempts to export it. The company is also dissuaded from further efforts by the aircraft's dependence on French suppliers, who naturally favour the Tiger.

Discussions are proceeding on how engineering support is to be provided for the next 25 to 30 years for the single squadron of Rooivalks operated by the South African Air Force. ATE is meanwhile pushing for procurement of a more simply-equipped second batch.

As part of its strategy of seeking equity partnerships to make all its businesses commercially viable, Denel is believed to have had talks with a European manufacturer over the formation of a joint venture to exploit the Rooivalk airframe. In view of existing commitments by AgustaWestland and Eurocopter, it might be conjectured that this company could be Poland's PZL-Swidnik.

Returning to the subject of the A129, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) will be prime contractor for manufacture in Turkey. Re-designated T129, it is expected to be equipped with 1250-kW LHTEC T800-5 engines, an Aselsan mission computer and Aselflir-300T targeting system and Roketsan Umtas long-range antitank guided missiles.

This 1.2 billion [euro] programme is expected to cover one prototype and 50 production aircraft, although the original total was to have been 91. Under the agreement with AgustaWestland, TAI is authorised to export T129s; potential customers being listed as Jordan, Malaysia and Pakistan.

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The Italian Army's 60 A129s are meanwhile being upgraded to A129CBT standard, with the five-blade rotor and some of the other improvements developed for the A129 International baseline export aircraft. Redesignated A129C Mangusta, five Italian aircraft have been deployed to Afghanistan to protect ground forces and transport helicopters.

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The 6100-kg Eurocopter Tiger, powered by 1322-kW MTU/Turbomeca/ Rolls-Royce MTR390 engines, was launched in 1999 with an order for 160, equally split between France and Germany. The latter is adhering to its plan for 80 dedicated anti-tank UHT Tigers, but France has revised its purchase to 40 Hap (fire support) and 40 Had (multi-role) Tigers. The Had variant was first developed for Spain, which has ordered 24 of these Tigers, with 18 aircraft to be assembled in country.

The only other export order to date for the Tiger is from Australia, which has bought 22, its ARH being an armed reconnaissance variant derived from France's Hap. Some 18 of these ARHs are being assembled by Eurocopter subsidiary Australian Aerospace.

Eurocopter has recently clarified the use of anti-armour guided weapons on the various models of Tiger. Australia and France will now use only the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire II, while Spain will use only the Euro-Spike built under Rafael licence, and Germany will use both the MBDA Hot 3 and the LFKMBDA/Diehl Pars-3LR.

In a further demonstration of the need for operational flexibility, in May 2007 sea trials began with the French Army Hap Tiger. By late 2008 this aircraft will be required to be operable from deployment and command ships, aircraft carriers and amphibious landing docks. This programme includes folding of the main rotor blades. Australia and Spain are both seriously interested in these tests.

Russia

At Moscow's Maks 2005 air show Kazan Helicopters unveiled an armed, tandem-seat derivative of its 3.3-tonne Ansat ('light' in the Tatar language) six-seat civilian helicopter. This Ansat-2RT is believed to have potentially been aimed at the market in South Korea, which plans to manufacture 274 attack helicopters. However, nothing has since been heard of this project, for which there is no domestic requirement, and it may well have been shelved.

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It might be added that Hindustan Aeronautics also has a tandem-seat Light Combat Helicopter design that is due to fly in September/October 2008, this in response to an Indian Army requirement for 70 anti-armour helicopters. Iran is said to be testing a combat helicopter with Canadian engines and French sensors. Whether this project (sometimes referred to as the HESA Panha-2091) is more than a reverse-engineered Bell AH-1 Cobra remains to be seen.

In 2005 the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Air Force confirmed that the Mil Mi-28N 'Night Hunter' had been selected as the next-generation attack helicopter to replace the Mi-24/35. Up to 50 are planned for purchase before 2010 and the eventual total could rise to 300. Deliveries are due to begin this year to the 55th Helicopter Regiment at Korenovsk in southwest Russia.

The original (daylight-only) Mi-28A made its Western debut at Le Bourget in 1989, despite having lost the domestic order to the single-seat, co-axial rotor Kamov V-80, later Ka-50. However, in 2003 that decision was reversed, the day/night adverse weather Mi-28N being preferred for its lower cost over the Ka-50N (which flew in 1997 in the form of the first production Ka-50 with added sensors).

Rosoboronexport accordingly backed the Mi-28NE (rather than any Ka-50 variant) in the final phase of the Turkish contest. The Mi-28NE has also been cleared for sale to China, and was presented at Airshow China 2006.

The Mi-28N differs from the Mi-28A in having a mast-mounted Phazotron Arbalet millimetre-wave radar, improved main rotor blades and a new gearbox. A Mil-built Mi-28N prototype (OP-1) flew in 1996, and the first production-standard Mi-28N (OP-2) was flown by Rostvertol in 2004. Service trials began in 2005 and the Russian Air Force was due to receive seven production aircraft in 2006.

The eleven-tonne Mi-28N is powered by two 1640-kW Klimov TV3-117VMA engines, which are later to be superseded by the same company's VK-2500s, providing an emergency rating of 2015 kW. A take-off weight of 12,000 kg is permissible for ferry missions, giving a range of up to 1000 km with external tanks. Maximum speed is 300 kin/hr.

The Mi-28N offers automatically controlled nap-of-the-earth flight at a height of less than 15 metres under nighttime adverse weather conditions. It is also claimed to be the world's best helicopter in terms of battlefield survivability. It certainly has an exceptional degree of cockpit protection, including bulletproof side windows, designed to withstand 12.7-mm API (armour-piercing incendiary) rounds. Vital systems are protected against 20/23 mm strikes.

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It may be recalled that the Ka-50 was the first helicopter to be equipped with an ejection seat (Zvezda K-37-800), its initiation first triggering jettison of the main rotor blades. For the Mi-28N it is claimed that in emergencies above 100 metres the crew can parachute conventionally, after the cockpit doors and the wings are jettisoned, and lateral airbags inflated to guide them clear of the airframe.

The Mi-28N is armed with a chin-mounted NPPU-28N turret with a 30-mm 2A42 cannon, and can carry rocket projectiles of up to 240 mm calibre. Two outboard pylons can take up to 16 KBM Ataka-V (AT-9) anti-armour missiles or up to eight KBM Igla (SA-18) air-to-air missiles. Other load options include two UPK-23-250 gunpods with 23 mm GSh-23L cannon and up to four KMGU-2 mine-dispensers.

As indicated above, the single-seat Kamov Ka-50 was selected over the Mi28 in 1987, and its fielding was authorised by President Yeltsin in 1995. However, funding limitations led to only a dozen being delivered (eight built by Progress Arseniev). The Ka-50 'Black Shark' has been used on a small scale to support Russian operations in the Chechen Republic, beginning in early 2001. There was a report of production being restarted in 2006.

The Ka-50-2 designation was used for a variant proposed for Turkey, using IAI/Lahav avionics. Responding to Turkish requirements, a tandem-seat version of the Ka-50-2 was produced as a mockup. This was exhibited at Idef '99 in Ankara under the name 'Erdogan' (Turkish for 'warrior').

A two-seat derivative for the Russian Air Force, the Ka-52, flew in 1997. This was intended primarily for battlefield command and control, in which role side-by-side seating has operational advantages, aside from giving a lighter airframe than a tandem arrangement. With reduced cockpit armour and ammunition normal take-off weight is 10,400 kg, compared to 9800 kg for the Ka-50.

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The eleventh production Ka-50 was modified to this standard and shown at Maks 1995 and Aero India 1996, where it was named 'Alligator'. Kamov states that the Ka-52 has passed the first phase of State acceptance trials.

USA

The aircraft that established the pattern for the modern attack helicopter was the Vietnam-era Bell AH-1 Cobra. The latest development in this long-running series is the US Marine Corps' Bell Helicopter Textron AH-1Z Viper, an upgraded AH-1W SuperCobra that has been given a four-blade main rotor, two 1260-kW General Electric T700-GE-401 engines, increased internal fuel capacity, a 'glass' cockpit, two additional weapon stations, the Thales TopOwl helmet-mounted display/sight and the Lockheed Martin 'Hawkeye' Target Sight System. Normal take-off weight is 7680 kg, rising to a maximum of 8400 kg. Maximum cruise speed is 295 km/hr, and ferry range is 685 km.

The first of three AH-1Z prototypes flew in December 2000, and the first production AH-1Z was formally rolled out on 27 September 2006. The US Marine Corps plans to have 180 AH-1Ws upgraded to AH-1Z standard, with initial operational capability (IOC) now scheduled for FY11. These attack helicopters will enjoy 84% commonality with the service's 100 UH-1Y Venoms, of which 90 are now to be new-built. In view of the service's commitments in Iraq, and the operational problems associated with having aircraft out of service for two years for remanufacture, some AH-1Zs may be new-built.

Possible future developments include introduction of 1340-kW T700-GE-401C engines and the Longbow fire control radar (from the Boeing AH-64D) in podded form.

Regarding the AH-1 Cobra series as merely interim equipment, the US Army decided during the Vietnam War to fund a brand-new and far more capable attack helicopter. The resulting AH-64A Apache (now a Boeing programme), designed for day/night clear weather operations, flew in 1975 and achieved IOC in 1986. Some 821 AH-64As were built for the US Army, and a total of 116, mostly refurbished Army aircraft, have been exported to five countries.

The AH-64A was used in Panama in 1989 and proved outstandingly useful in the 1991 Gulf War. The 288 AH-64As deployed to Saudi Arabia by the US Army for Desert Storm were responsible for the destruction of more than 500 Iraqi tanks and numerous other assets.

The AH-64D Apache Longbow differs primarily in having a mast-mounted APG-78 Longbow millimetre-wave fire control radar, developed and produced by Longbow International, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. It also has uprated 1400-kW General Electric T700-GE-701C engines, giving a primary mission gross weight of 6838 kg, although it can be operated to 9990 kg for a ferry mission.

A total of 597 Apache Longbows have been ordered by the US Army as remanufactured AH-64As. A batch of 45 new-build AH-64Ds is being produced as war-loss replacements, and the US FY08 budget request includes funding for 36 AH-64Ds. The US Army National Guard plans to upgrade 72 of its 116 AH-64As to Longbow standard. The current Block II variant incorporates the Lockheed Martin Arrowhead advanced sighting system.

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Export orders for the AH-64D consist of twelve for Greece, nine for Israel (which will convert a similar number of AH-64As to its AH-64D 'Saraf' standard), 16 for Kuwait, 30 for the Netherlands, 20 for Singapore and 67 for the UK (the AgustaWestland-assembled WAH-64D having 1565-kW Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca RTM322 engines). In 1999 the Japan Defense Agency selected the AH-64DJ to replace the JGSDF Fuji-built Bell AH-1S, with a small batch to be purchased directly from Boeing, followed by licence production by Fuji to give a planned total of 55. The AH-64DJ is the only version with the Raytheon Stinger air-to-air missile.

Some Egyptian AH-64As have been upgraded to AH-64D standard, and similar upgrades are scheduled for Greece, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the UAE. It appears that, of all the export AH-64Ds, only those sold to Britain, Greece and Singapore have the Longbow radar installed, the rest having only provisions for it to be retrofitted.

The US Army plans for all its Apaches to be upgraded to Block III standard, with 1490-kW T700-GE-701D engines, composite rotor blades, fly-by-wire controls and provisions for the AH-64D to control drones.The Block III will be fully compatible with the US Army's Future Combat System. On current plans, a low-rate production decision is due in 2010, leading to IOC in 2013 and the 597th and last Block III being purchased in FY21. There is also talk of a Block IV with completely new engines and active countermeasures against rocket-propelled grenades.
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Title Annotation:Rotary wing
Author:Braybrook, Roy
Publication:Armada International
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:2577
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