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Winding up the whirly attackers. (Upgrade Approach).

The first 'pure' attack helicopter, as we know it today, was Bell's AH-1G Cobra, which initially flew on 7 September 1965. It was armed for ground attack with four seven-centimetre rocket pods on stub wings and with a 7.62 mm machine gun and a 40 mm grenade launcher mounted on a nose turret. As anti-tank guided weapons were developed, the attack helicopter assumed the anti-armour role. Armed with Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon) BGM-71 Tows, the AH-1-series went on to become a world standard, serving with the US Army, US Marine Corps and a host of other international air arms.

The AH-1 Cobra and SuperCobra, in various iterations, have achieved more than 4.5 million flight hours since the first AH-1G was delivered to the US Army in 1967. Although AH-1s have now been replaced in US Army service by the Boeing (McDonnell Douglas, formerly Hughes Helicopters) AH-64 Apache, AH-1W SuperCobras remain in US Marine Corps service. In 1999, the Corps initiated the H-1 Upgrade Program, which involves the remanufacture of 180 AH-1Ws to AH-1Z configuration (along with 100 UH-1N to UH-1Y standard), which should see both types in service to 2020.

The advanced configuration features a four-bladed, all-composite, hingeless and bearingless main rotor system and tail rotor, identical drive trains, hydraulics and electrical distribution systems and common twin General Electric T700 engines. The AH-1Z features a new Integrated Avionics System from Litton Guidance and Control and is armed with 16 Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinders as well as a nose-mounted GAU-16 20 mm cannon.

The first Zulu flew on 7 December 2000. Three development aircraft are currently flying from the US Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland flight test facility. The initial operational assessment of the AH-1Z SuperCobra (and UH-1Y Huey) began at the Patuxent River test facility on 13 February last.

Enter Apache

A decade after the 'G' series flew, Bell's YAH-63A was in the air and competing against the Hughes Helicopters' YAH-64 design to become the US Army's advanced attack helicopter. In December 1976, the AH-64A Apache was declared the winner and ordered into development. With the final Fiscal Year 1994 procurement of ten Apaches, the US Army had bought a total of 821 (plus prototypes and development aircraft).

Full-scale development of the Apache's upgrade to the AH-64D Apache Longbow began in 1990 and centred on the development of the mast-mounted Northrop Grumman AN/ AP6-78 Longbow millimetre-wave radar system and a new version of the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire with an RF (radio frequency) seeker head. However, further improvements were included, covering new glass cockpits with colour multi-function displays, air-to-air missiles, a digital auto stabiliser, an integrated GPS/inertial navigation system, digital communications, faster target hand-off system and enhanced fault-detection, with data transfer and recording facilities.

The AH-64D production contract was awarded in 1995 with the first remanufactured aircraft up and flying on 17 March 1997. The primary multiyear contract for 232 AH-64Ds was completed in March 2002 with a second, for 269 conversions, beginning in September 2001. The multiyear two configuration is an upgrade over and above the multiyear one, which includes enhanced digitised communications, which, in turn, allows the use of the Tactical Internet with the ground forces. The Integrated Data Modem will provide digital communication with US Air Force surveillance aircraft.

The US Army is now defining the proposed Block III configuration for future AH-64D upgrades. Among the elements being considered are:

* use of the more powerful T700-GE-701D turboshaft engines

* signal processing, software and power improvements to the APG-78 Longbow radar (to increase range and discrimination by up to 50 per cent)

* a passive targeting capability

* an unmanned aerial vehicle control and datalink capability

* an advanced version of the Rotorcraft Pilot's Associate situational awareness capability

* an improved open-systems architecture replacing the current line-replaceable units with a commercial off-the-shelf data card-based system, and

* a composite rotor blade (possibly with a five-blade configuration).

If approved, Block III production would include the final 130 to 200 AH-64A Apaches being converted to AH-64Ds, while AH-64D Block I and II helicopters may also be brought up to Block III standards.


Italy's 45 in-service Agusta-Westland A129 Mangustas will be upgraded to the latest A129 EES (armed reconnaissance and escort helicopter) configuration by 2007, with the final 15 new builds to be delivered to this standard. The EES version will include the following improvements:

* a five-bladed main rotor, plus strengthened transmission and tail rotor

* a modified nose mounting the Lockheed Martin/OTO Melara TM197B 20 mm turreted gun

* a strengthened and lengthened landing gear, for improved ground clearance

* a revised NVG-compatible cockpit with improved avionics, including GPS, secure communications and an Integrated Helmet and Display Sighting System

* an improved defensive aids suite, known as Siap, and

* provision for FIM-92 Stinger missiles on an air-to-air launcher.

Hind Forward

Russia's answer to the AH-1 Cobra was the Mil Mi-24 Hind, based on the Mi-14 dynamic system and which was first flown on 19 September 1969. It was armed with a fixed GSh-23 twin-barrelled cannon with a 12.7 mm turreted machine gun and provision for 9M114 Shturm V (AT-6 Spiral) ATGWs. The Mi-24 (designated Mi-25 and Mi-35 for export) entered service in 1974. Main production was discontinued in 1989 but low-rate production for export continues by Rostvertol at Rostov-on-Don.

There are several variations on the Hind upgrade theme from several countries. From the domestic industry comes the Mi-24PN, modified from Mi-24P Hind-F models. Last year, Russian Army Aviation ordered the first two Mi-24PN upgrades, with systems for day/night operations and in all weather conditions.

The Mi-24PN upgrade adds an electro-optical channel, with the Krasnogorsk's Zenith-designed Zarevo flir and a laser rangefinder. The new avionics developed by Ramenskoye PKB include liquid-crystal displays, plus night-vision goggles and a digital map with GPS input. The 9M120 Ataka-V (AT-12 Swinger) ATGW has been added to the armament. The Mil design bureau would like to see the Mi-24's original engines replaced by 2400 hp (1838 kW) Klimov TV3-117VMA-SB3 turboshaft engines, with ten per cent more power.

In 1999, the Tamam Division of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) showed a Mi-24V Hind-E attack helicopter in its export Mi-35 guise upgraded for extended day and night operations. The prototype system, known as Mission 24, comprised:

* a Helicopter Multi-mission Optronics Payload, with flir and TV cameras with auto-track facility

* a head-motion sensor which is slaved to the nose 12.7 mm gun turret

* NVGs and Helmet-Mounted Display combined in one helmet

* a GPS/Doppler navigation system integrated with a digital moving map and keyboard/display unit

* a multi-function display in each cockpit for navigation, targeting, flight data and video recording, and

* a mission computer to manage the new systems, reducing crew workload.

At the time, IAI was reported as having received a contract to equip Hinds operated by an unnamed customer, believed to be India. The Aero India 2003 air show seemed to confirm this, with the appearance of one upgraded Mi-35 with a similar system installed. According to Indian sources, all Mi-35s in service with No.104 Helicopter Unit will be modified and redelivered during 2003.

The sight of an upgraded Mi-24 Hind of the Uzbekistan Air Force at Le Bourget in 2001 revealed that Sagem of France had a contract to introduce a night capability to a dozen Hinds (and twelve Mi-8 Hips). This involved the installation of a 1553B databus (in parallel with the original Russian Gost system); a new mission system, a new navigation system, new multifunction displays in an NVG-compatible cockpit, and a variety of new sensors, including the Nadir flir in a nose-mounted ball turret. The armament system has remained unchanged.

In September 2002, Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE) of South Africa revealed the SuperHind Mk II and Mk III upgrade packages at a local show. The latter was on display and is in production for an undisclosed country, believed to be Algeria; the former being the simpler and less-costly version.

ATE integrated the avionics and weapons systems of South Africa's Rooivalk combat support helicopter and brings this experience to the SuperHind. The focus is to improve the firepower, night-combat capability and logistic support, while capitalising on its inherently capable and well-equipped features, all at a cost substantially below that of a new aircraft. The basis of both packages is a digitally integrated core avionics and weapons system developed by ATE, which incorporates a GPS navigation display subsystem.

From BAE Systems Avionics Group comes a Hind upgrade initially developed for Poland and which subsequently became the preferred solution of the so-called Visegrad Four countries--Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic--for a joint upgrade requirement for up to 115 Mi-24D/E Hinds.

First proposed in December 2000, the heart of this Mi-24 upgrade is the mission and display computer. This controls--via two 1553B databuses--sensor management, display processing, the digital map, datalink communications, weapon aiming, initialisation and built-in test equipment. Specific elements include:

* a new communications and navigation suite, with colour active-matrix, liquid-crystal displays in both cockpits

* a helmet-mounted display

* NVGs and NVG-compatible lighting

* a four-element multi-sensor turret system, and

* a modular self defence suite.

The system is compatible with existing Russian and domestic armament plus any Western weaponry selected by the customer.
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Author:Grant, Peter
Publication:Armada International
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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