Bell Helicopter is pitching its AH-1Z Viper attack and UH-1Y Venom utility helicopters to meet ADF requirements outlined in the recent Defence White Paper.
February’s Defence White Paper and its accompanying Integrated Investment Program (IIP) detailed the planned early retirement and replacement of Army’s Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) from the mid-2020s plus plans to acquire “deployable light helicopters” to support Special Forces operations.
“The White Paper calls for Australia to have an outward-facing, strategically engaged capability of being forward deployed,” Bell’s regional director for military business development, John Woodbery, told Australian Aviation in Canberra in late July.
“We are the only company that makes a built-for-purpose at point of manufacture, marinised attack helicopter that is in service with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and is afloat on ships right now in the Pacific region. The amphibious capability is a key component to the Defence White Paper and the direction in which Australia is moving its strategic mind set. I believe that in itself gives us the ability to talk – we are a viable option.”
At February’s Singapore Airshow, Bell signed a teaming agreement BAE Systems Australia, positioning them to offer the AH-1Z Viper as a potential Tiger ARH replacement.
“We have signed one teaming agreement with BAE Systems Australia and we are getting ready to make that a Memorandum of Understanding with the purpose of the whole market concept,” Woodbery said.
“Right now, the teaming agreement covers just the Zulu, but we’re looking to expand that relationship for any other platforms we can be competitive with what the ADF are looking for.”
One of those is Bell’s armed utility UH-1Y Venom which could be offered to meet the deployable light reconnaissance and attack requirement.
“Our H-1 program is two aircraft – Viper and Venom. They are both brand new helicopters and not remanufactures of AH-1Ws or UH-1Ns. They have three-times the capabilities of their predecessors and share 85 per cent parts commonality by design,” Woodbery said.
Coincidentally a UH-1Y Venom and AH-1W SuperCobra, the Zulu’s predecessor, have landed on board an Australian LHD, HMAS Canberra, for the first time as the amphibious assault ship was taking part in Exercise RIMPAC 2016 off the north-east coast of Hawaii. The Venom and SuperCobra flew across Canberra’s deck during a freeplay session in the final phase of the exercise on July 29 as part of a US Navy and USMC aviation integration program to clear its rotary-wing assets for operations from the Royal Australian Navy’s new amphibious assault ships.
The USMC also frequently deploys Yankees to Darwin in support of its troop rotations there – in fact, at least one Yankee has been observed at RAAF Base Darwin at present – but it will be a while before a Zulu is seen in Australia.
“There is a big push to get Zulus in Darwin. It is a matter of when they are going to be in the hands of the units that are doing rotations through Australia and their fielding plan. Right now we have delivered 46 Zulus to the Marines out of 179. By the end of 2017 our goal is to have 96 in the fleet.”
Deputy Chief of Army Major General Rick Burr flew in the front seat of a Marine Corps Viper at Camp Pendleton, California in late July. The pilot was an Australian Tiger ARH pilot from 1 Aviation Regiment in Darwin on exchange with the USMC.
“Slowly but surely we are getting that top level exposure to the technology and the aircraft. Our biggest issue from a business development standpoint is we don’t have a physical aircraft to showcase. We have to borrow it from a nearby Marine Expeditionary Unit.”
An in-depth interview with John Woodbery will appear in the September issue of Australian Aviation