Boeing's New (old) Attack/Recon Helo
What looks like a Little Bird, sounds like a Little Bird, but isn’t a Little Bird – yes, Boeing’s all new rotorcraft program AH-6 light attack/reconnaissance helicopter.
Announced today at AUSA, Boeing claims that foreign requests for this type of aircraft were irresistible (one launch customer lined up for 18 to 24 aircraft – unnamed - and others in the wings – unnamed). The fact this announcement comes out ‘blue sky’ suspiciously near the resolution of the ARH programme issue is sheer coincidence we are asked to believe.
According to Mike Burke, Boeing’s director of business development, this is not an AH-6J/MH-6J, but nevertheless the official Boeing release points to it being ‘a combat-proven with a heritage of successful service with Special Operations.’
Whatever it is called, it is what it says – a weaponised light helicopter with six rotor blades and four tail rotors offering a payload of up to 2,000lb with a FADEC controlled C30R/3M Rolls-Royce engine. As the 160th SOAR has proved over time, it can be loaded across the central spar with an impressive array of weapons.
Boeing has used the two aircraft that were manufactured for its original (unsuccessful) ARH bid in a variety of ways – perhaps the most impressive being as unmanned test platforms (as reported in Defence Helicopter).
But where will this offering stand if Bell’s ARH get’s the green light, and somehow budget is found by the UK Ministry of Defence to guarantee the future of AgustaWestland’s Future Lynx? Will these customers still want a relatively light reconnaissance helicopter when two fully specified rivals will be on the market with both Bell and AgustaWestland trying to sell their own product hard.
But Boeing may have a point. Not everyone wants network centric platforms, Hellfire missiles, chain guns and the latest avionics. The trouble is, will the number of orders generated by these foreign customers, if the AH-6 is not chosen by the US Army, be sufficient to establish a production line with guaranteed through life support?
By Andrew Drwiega, Washington, DC
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