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Bell Helicopter pitches Vipers and Venoms to the ADF

written by australianaviation.com.au | August 5, 2016

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

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Comments (25)

  • Derrick Aguero


    Que the Yankee and Venom haters….. saying that their to old, we should have ordered them in the first place.

  • Realist


    Forget that Show me that these platforms will still still viable at the time the White Paper says they need to be introduced , ie 2025…
    And whats the requirement for the Yankee??? it’s hardly a MRH-90 replacement or a LUH

  • John N


    Whilst I’m sure Bell would love nothing more than the Australian Government to acquire both the AH-1Z Viper and the UH-1Y Venom, I wouldn’t be holding my breath!

    Yes I can certainly see the AH-1Z Viper being a contender (amongst others) to replace the Tiger capability around the mid 2020’s, but the wording in the DWP is interesting, it says: “which could included manned or unmanned systems, or a combination of both”, so the door is still open on what the Tiger replacement might be.

    As for Bell thinking the UH-1Y Venom being a contender for the “light deployable helicopter” (wording used in the DWP), well that is stretching the rubber band a bit too much, nothing “light” about the Venom!!

    A far more obvious candidate for the light deployable helicopter would be something along the lines of the MH-6 Little Bird (which is used by US Army Special Forces):


    If the wording in the DWP is accurate, then the Little Bird, or similar, appears to fit the bill, could probably load at least four of them into a C-17A and deploy anywhere they were required.

    Yes of course if the Government was thinking of replacing the Blackhawks operated by the Special Forces, with an airframe of similar size and capability, the Venom could be a contender (along with the current Blackhawk variants), but yet again in the DWP the wording states: “role-specific upgrades to existing helicopters”.

    And existing helicopters means role specific upgrades to the MRH90’s (France is planning/studying Special Forces upgrades to their NH90’s, and reportedly Australia is involved in that too).

    Viper? Certainly a possibility, Venom? Wouldn’t hold my breath!!


    John N

  • Blacky


    I wonder if the rotors will be allowed to turn on ships?…the last purchased piece of excellence seemed to struggle with that minor operation….

  • Fabian


    I knew, I just knew it. Australia will potentially buy the viper and venom for the defence force. Their is no other option for the tiger replacement other than the Apache. The venoms opponent will be the mike model Blackhawk and the little bird.
    Glad to here this.

  • Steve


    Great idea. Just for a change, let’s buy something that actually works, and that needs minimal modification.

  • Harry


    Why not just get the Apache instead? Way better

  • Fabian


    Share 85% parts. That’s awesome!!!!! Maintenance will be super easy then

  • Derrick Aguero


    Two platforms that use off the shelf components and that are ready to use. Both deployable in a C17 and the LHD without any modifications, one would hope that the government see the writing on the wall and look at purchasing these platforms in the near future……

  • Dave A



    The Venom isn’t light, which means you are essentially competing with the MRH-90.

    Which Brings us to the second point.

    You only get the viper if you want that commonality, Otherwise you may as well kill that req. for the Apache program. The V is a good nice aircraft, The Apache comes with a plethora of support Options.

  • Fabian


    The Apache is good but I would rather the AH-1z viper and venom

  • the road runner


    Hi John Newman ,i think you will find the DWP states that the “Capability” of the ARH will be replaced and not the Air frame. I think a few of us jumped the gun on this and thought the AH1Z or Apache was a shoe in. Major Gen Mathewson, the head of Helicopter Systems Division has argued this point. You will find ASSAIL has written on this in the RAN threat over at DT.

    In hindsight i think the wheels are better than skids when operation off LHDs ,easier to mover around the deck and unlike skids require less equipment for movement. The Navy should gift their NH90s to 5 AVN and purchase some MH-60S to have a common fleet , with the Romeos.

    The Army needs a special forces helicopter , just get a squadron of blackhawks and be done with it !

  • Fabian


    The venom is a perfect helicopter for the special forces. The little bird is a contester. Although they can both be armed with 70 mm unguided rockets and machine guns. And it depends on the capacity and size as well as cost.

  • PAUL


    Do these types have shielding against EMP like the Tiger? MD540F would be better than AH6

  • Stuart


    If they went for the Venom they should ask Bell to put the 2 blade rotor back on. How could you have a UH1 without the sound track…

  • Corey Dark


    The US Special Forces are looking to replace their fleet of Little Bird helicopter with the UH-72 / H645 helicopters. The ADF will be upgrading the Tigers and won’t be buying any Bells anytime soon unless it’s the MV-22 Osprey which would be a good Special Forces Helicopter as well. The Navy need an additional 6 MHR90s and the Army should just buy an additional 44 along with an additional 14 CH-47F Chinooks. Why wast money on new plat forms when you can use what you already have and just buy a couple of brand new frames? It’s cheaper in the long run. I make my cased of the white paper along with the ADF working with Airbus and the other Tiger Operators on the Mk3 version. The only new air frames which might be bought into service is the MV-22 and the H645s.

    • Lee


      Why commando need another aircraft alongside the mrh90

      The mrh90 cant get close to bulid as a well as the blackhawk could, making counter terrorism operation in urban environments impossible with the mrh90

      Cant have the gun out the door when rappelling at the same time like the blackhawk could thus you have know firepower coverage and requires the mrh90 to alternate one jumping one overwatch

      Host of other issues as well

  • Martin


    Could I ask Australian Aviation to run a comprehensive item on what has gone wrong with the ADF Tiger acquisition and why Government thinks it has to withdraw it earlier than was presumably initially planned (rather than working through the problems as has been done for a number of other ADF aircraft types in recent years)? In that article, could you also look at what the European countries that operate the Tiger are doing? I have not heard anything about them pulling the pin on their even more substantial investment in this helicopter type,

    If this has already been done, could you remind me which issue(s) it was covered in?

    • australianaviation.com.au


      @Martin, we do have a few proposed Tiger magazine features in the pipeline. Cheers, Gerard

  • Jason


    Corey – I would love to know where you pluck your force structure numbers from.

    e.g. where did you get “an additional 44” MRH 90s from? Is there a particular model based on a future operational concept you used to come to this number?

    Similarly, where did “an additional 14 Chinooks” come from? Again, what operation are you trying to conduct with a total of 22 CH-47Fs?

  • jim chandler


    Dejavu – we’ve been here before people. Some 20 yrs ago Bell was offering Zulu’s (albeit under development then) for AIR87, but we lacked the foresight to get on board with the USMC and contribute to the R n D costs. Consequently we ended up with the Claytons capability that was Tiger. Enough said about the debacle…

  • Dan


    @Corey – ADF have said they wont be investing in the next round of Tiger ARH Upgrades. The reason the AH-1Z fits in nicely is that you can get a 1 for 1 replacement of the Tiger for the same cost of the Tiger ARH MLU… And for that you get a Zero Hour Airframe, data linking that will integrate with Jericho (ARH just missed that plan when the requirements were penned), off the shelf Hellfire (which took a fair bit of time to work into ARH) in a fully Marinised platform, that our major training partner (USMC Pac) uses… From which we can leverage huge amounts of info. Oh plus there is commonality with the MH-60R powerplants. The ability to project and cover amphibious ops from the LHD’s is something the RAN/ADF have come to desire/require, and the AH-1Z is the best off the shelf solution.

    As for the SOCOMD requirements, well notice how tightly SOCOMD are holding onto the S-70A-9 Blackhawks; they don’t seem to want a bar of MRH (and its idiosyncrasies) – I wouldn’t be surprised if an MH-60 variant is purchased for roles where you need that lift power (not to mention leveraging the years of type experience we and partner nations have on this airframe) and an M-6 or similar ‘small’ plaform is purchased for the lighter roles (ie, high speed insertion of a four man team and limited on station support).

    You can get two MH-60’s into a C-17, atleast four M-6’s into a second C-17, and you can pack quite a bit of gear and lads around the stuff in both, getting them anywhere is Au (or the world) in relatively short order.

  • Dan


    Oh and as for V-22, if they work with the LHD’s (which I am not sure if the really do – I think there is only one V-22 compatible landing spot on deck? Or am I wrong with that?), they’d be an awesome CSAR asset. And while I’d like to see RAAF/RAN/RAAAvn whatever V-22’s, their problem will be C-27’s, who’s role they have quite a lot of overlap with.

    V-22 can go land on the boat and land in a smaller LZ – but is that enough to negate the extra range and speed of the C-27?

  • paul


    Apaches all the way.

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